Obama passes the leadership test - Macleans.ca

Obama passes the leadership test

The President could have chosen the safer path by continuing to ‘evolve’


Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Sure, the economy remains the number one concern of the voters down south, and with good reason. But choosing a president in a free market democracy entails more than observing and responding to the monthly job statistics, the price of oil, or the Dow Jones. It involves looking for leadership and the sense of direction for the country. Barack Obama, by endorsing gay marriage, illustrates the kind of moral, presidential leadership that he needs to bring forward in an election year.

Already, the analysts are assessing his historic statement. Was it Vice President Joe Biden’s Meet The Press interview that forced the President’s hand? Was it the liberal base pushing Obama to take a stand? Or, was it the commentators like former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, telling Obama on national T.V. to man up?

The Republicans, on the other hand, appear perplexed and confused. The religious right, showing no understanding or tolerance of an opposing view, is always talking about “radical social engineering”, dixit Rick Santorum. Rush Limbaugh calls Obama’s stance a war on traditional marriage. Others interpret this rather risky decision by Obama as petty politics.

Actually, Obama could have chosen the safer path by continuing to “evolve”.  After all, the swing state of North Carolina just voted for an amendment to the state constitution, banning same sex marriage. Obama won that state in 2008, and it is now a toss-up in 2012. The same can be said of another state Obama won in 2008 – Iowa –where there is a strong conservative religious fervor. In other words, ambiguity may have served him better, in what everyone agrees will be a close election.

His opponent Mitt Romney, who has flip flopped on so many core conviction issues, remains adamantly opposed to same sex marriage. The religious right, already fairly lukewarm to Romney’s candidacy, may suddenly find a reason to get excited for Mitt after all.

At the end of the day, Obama’s thinking is very much  similar to America’s as a whole. Americans are also reflecting, evolving, and some, like Obama, have come to the conclusion that gay marriage is a question of civil rights and now support it. Polls show those in favor of gay marriage may number over 50 per cent. Obama may have taken a risky decision for close swing state politics, but it is the right decision in terms of equality, respect and compassion.

It is fitting that the first African American President should advance the cause of civil rights even further in the 21st century. The hopes and dreams he inspired in 2008 have been severely tested by a slow economic recovery.  Yet he was elected to take the difficult decisions. Capturing and killing Bin Laden, saving GM, bringing in healthcare reform and financial institutional reform were important decisions in the governance of a nation gripped by a severe recession and a war against terrorism.

Moral courage is a fundamental tenet of leadership, and it is required in expanding civil rights. By his latest act of political statesmanship, Obama passed the transformational leadership test.

 See also: Obama and marriage: the arc of the moral universe is pretty bloody slow


Obama passes the leadership test

  1. Now he needs to end the idiotic ‘war on drugs’.

  2. As the first African-American president, Obama also has more political cover to push for marriage equality (though admittedly, there are zero policy implications from his stance, unless you thought Obama planned on pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage). In 2008, California passed prop 8 by a narrow margin. Here is the (yes-no) breakdown of the exit polls by race:
    White: 49-51
    Black: 70-30
    Latino: 53-47
    Asian: 49-51
    Other: 51-49
    African Americans, disproportionately opposed to gay marriage, are still going to vote for Obama in November in large numbers. So when you look at gay marriage polls (which have moved in favour of equality) in order to gauge whether the issue is a political liability or not, remember that a fair-sized chunk of gay marriage opponents are bedrock Democrats, unlikely to abandon Obama. On the whole, this is a winning issue for Obama.

  3. If he were transformational and moral he would have firmly adopted this position a long time ago. He is an opportunist.

  4. The most important thing in Barry’s “evolution” from coke head/pot head to the first affirmative action President, from muslim to Christian, from letting the American people set social policy to BO dictating it, is that George Clooney will be very happy and raise lots of dough for Barry’s convenient “evolution”. Domestic policy dictated by Hollywood and the pursuit of cash is the height of “evolution”.

    • Everyone still think the negative vote option is bad?

  5. “The same can be said of another state Obama won in 2008 – Iowa –where
    there is a strong conservative religious fervor. In other words,
    ambiguity may have served him better, in what everyone agrees will be a
    close election.” Are you sure? Iowa Republicans did go for Santorum, BUT Iowa is also one of the states where same-sex marriage has been legal for many years now.

    • I think this fact is at least worth a mention in the context of your quote.

  6. A risky stand on principle, showing leadership. Uh huh. Because most Obama supporters are so likely to be opposed to gay marriage, and might not come out in November based on this announcement.

    I think this Onion piece makes more sense than Parisella’s.

    You can’t have it both ways: either “Polls show those in favor of gay marriage may number over 50 per cent” and ‘ Obama’s thinking is very much similar to America’s as a whole” making it an issue that won’t hurt Obama at worst and will help him get his supporters to the polls at best, or it’s an unpopular position that shows strong leadership on his part. Can’t be both a majority position as well as a courageous stand though, sorry.

    BTW: if this is strong leadership, what’s the last 3.5 years of his presidency been? The part where he was “evolving” along with public opinion, I mean.

    • And one afterthought: your quintessentially Parisellian bit of the day.

      “The religious right, showing no understanding or tolerance of an opposing view…” he says, somehow keeping a straight face. The irony is too much for some of us.

  7. One question I do have for Parisella, though, is why it is “leadership” when Obama changes his position (to a more popular position with his base and the general public), but it is “flip-flopping” when Romney does the same thing (and on some issues, notably Romneycare, he has stuck to his guns in the face of significant criticism)? Can Romney not evolve?
    This was my basic beef with coverage of the primaries as well. When Romney “failed to seal the deal” it was because he was a disaster. When Obama failed to “seal the deal”, it was simply a sign that Hillary Clinton was bitter (incidentally, the RCP average shows Romney only about 1 point behind Obama, with pretty solid backing from Republicans as I predicted* – he’s hardly a disaster). It ends up sounding like a narrative crafted to fit your own personal political desires, rather than good analysis.
    I mean, if you’re going to be a partisan hack, that’s fine. But it might be easier to just write “Romney bad, Obama good?”
    *I’m not saying I’m a perfect prognosticator. I was pretty sure Hillary would win in 2008, I thought people underestimated Michael Ignatieff (actually, I still think he could have done well if he had talked about bread and butter issues and not the contempt/democracy/rise up schpiel), and bought into the Wild Rose wave. But at least I’m trying to build a mental model with which to understand politics irrespective of my preferences.

  8. He did not “capture” Bin Laden, he allowed the Marines to kill him. And, that was the only decision that could have been made. Anything else would have been wrong and would have marked him as a coward.
    Obama had no problem when he recently issued a “hall pass” to young illegal immigrants, allowing them to stay in the United States and NOT be deported.
    If Obama was really that much PRO gay marriage, why has he not issued the same “hall pass” to same-sex spouses of US citizens who are not Americans themselves? The law in the USA at the moment is that same sex spouses cannot sponsor their mate for citizenship.
    I don’t think that there is any particular “moral courage” exhibited here. This is just a President who wants to stay President.