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