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07/01/2010

Robert George on Obama: Willfully Anti-Intellectual or Passively So?

by Jeremy Hooper

NOM-Robert-GeorgeNational Organization for Marriage founder Robert George has written a deliberately provocative 544-word piece for National Review Online, in which he asks of President Obama's marriage stance:

Obama on Marriage: Bigot or Liar? [NRO]

In said piece, Robby's primary argument is that (a) the president's views on civil rights equality are fit to be directly compared to certain Miss USA runners-up and certain ban-happy churches with their own interesting "traditional marriages" in their past, and (b) progressives have supposedly given the prez some sort of undeserved pass on all of this. Here's a snip:

So which is it? Is the president a bigot or a liar?

For what it’s worth, I think he is lying. I doubt that Barack Obama believes in the conjugal conception of marriage as a male-female union. After all, he opposed California’s Proposition 8, which restored the historical definition of marriage in California law after it had been erased by the state’s Supreme Court, and he has vowed to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was signed into law by President Clinton.

Moreover, I suspect that very few progressives doubt that President Obama is lying. So why do they give him a pass? Why do they let him get away with publicly embracing a position they regard as bigotry? Why is he not given the treatment they have meted out to Carrie Prejean, the Mormon Church, and others who oppose the redefinition of marriage?

Only problem for Robert? His overarching argument is about as cogent and reality-based as a fussy newborn's staunch insistence that the food pyramid is limited to left or right nipple!

The biggest enchilada that Robert ignores: That the president is absolutely, unequivocally opposed to marriage bans, both state and federal. He has said so. He has voted so. And he is also publicly opposed to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, has ensured that he is in favor of strong civil unions, and taken other strides to show respect for LGBT families. And that, my friends, is light years away from the "opposite marriage" actions of Prejean (who, btw, that I feel silly even having to mention in a grownup political conversation) or the "Hey lets' throw wads of cash at Prop 8 -- what are we, an economic crisis or something?" mentality of the Mormon church. And the president is even further away from NOM, an organization whose sole focus -- WHOSE SOLE FOCUS! -- is on denying rights to gays, and whose sizable bank account -- WHOSE SIZABLE BANK ACCOUNT! -- is opened whenever they feel like peppering their autumns (or nutmegging, as it were) with a good ol' fashioned rights rollback!

Look, most of us on the side of basic fairness, civil rights, and the American sense of nondiscrimination loathe the fact that the president can't come around to using the plain and simple words "marriage equality." This writer has said so many times, and I was saying so even when then-candidate Obama was still well behind Hillary Clinton's formidable pantsuit (and I spoke out against her stance as well). But I'm far from alone: Almost every single LGBT activist working towards marriage rights, be they progressive or conservative, have pressed the president on this matter! Numerous publications have printed stories on the matters, and cable TV airtime has been dedicated to debating it. So Robert's corollary argument saying that progressives have given him "a pass" or have been "strangely silent" is also completely off-the-mark! In fact, some of the president's politically-minded supporters have already vowed to give him both a pass and silence come 11/12 if he doesn't come around on this and other LGBT rights issues!

And then there's the discourse-weakening "Bigot or Liar?" choice itself. It's page one of NOM's playbook to act as if anyone who fights for marriage equality is going around using the word "bigot" all the time, but the reality of this whole debate could not be further from the truth. This writer never uses the word, yet I probably spill more ink on marriage and NOM than 90% of the population (even more than Mags Gallagher herself). I also don't remember Olson and Boies peppering the recent Prop 8 trial with "bigot" strings. Nor are the LGBT national groups sending out op-eds and press release filled with ad hominem attacks (even though anti-LGBT figures like Matt Barber surely is). That's because on our side, we have the convincing arguments. While some independent voices surely do use certain bits of rhetorical flourish, we pro-equality activists who engage in the public square don't have to cling to the slurs that NOMs wants so desperately to put in our mouths. And perhaps even more telling than that: We don't have to constantly work to convince the American public that our opposition is saying something that they're not saying. What they are saying is bad enough!

Bottom line is that Robert George is obviously attempting to find both polarization and cover through this straw man piece. But the truth (which is about fifty miles left from where NOM staffers tend to operate) is that President Obama, circa 2010, is neither a "bigot" or a "liar": He's simply short-sighted and/or wrong about where we ultimately need to go, how we need to get there, and what steps he could be taking to help us. He's not a ban-bankrolling church, but he's not a GetEQUAL activist either. He's not Anita Bryant on the marriage issue, but he's also not yet Sen. Gillibrand. Be it due to political pragmatism or a not-yet-fully-evolved consciousness of the constitutional inequalities at hand, we have a president who is in many ways with us unlike any president to come before, yet in other ways a day-to-day reminded of how far we still have to come. That actuality may not be as provocative as the "bigot or liar?" narrative that this NOM principal so fully wants to foster. But if there's anything we've learned about NOM, it's that peace, love, and the greater good are rarely-to-never solidified through any of their provocations!

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