SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage

In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.

President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.

True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.

The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?

In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.

The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.

Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).

Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”

“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”

No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.

I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.

The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.

Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.

Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.

That hasn’t changed.

“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.

Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.

So tell me—what good is he, exactly?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

17 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

  1. “Oh, and as a huge fan of all things Egyptian, let me tell you you’re unworthy of the name Sekhmet.”

    This is the best you can come up with? In your tireless efforts to brownnose Obama, you insult decent people with all the venom you can muster and then, hilariously, display the very authoritarian slavishness that you resent in other rightwingers in the Republican party — and the best comeback you can muster is you like Egypt?

    Sekhmet poured out her wrath upon mankind because it was full of corrupt, lying, self-serving mongrels. You may like her, but the feeling would not be reciprocated.

    “If you can’t grasp my point after that, I’m afraid you’re beyond help.”

    Awww, isn’t that precious? Having failed to defend his point, whimsy resorts to a schoolyard taunt. Here’s a tip: grown-ups can construct an argument that doesn’t collapse on casual inspection. If you’re going to fake adulthood, master this ability and get back to us.

    Authoritarian democrats are no better than authoritarian republicans. They don’t even differ in rhetoric. Take whimsy and file off the Obama worship and you can apply him to a rightwing screed.

  2. @ex

    Aww, poor little plant. You’re even more incoherent, incorrect and irrelevant than usual- are you’re right wing bosses being mean because of your continuing failure to spark the “Gwoious Wevolution” they long for?

    Good.

    @sek

    Usually, people who comment here need to have enough brainpower to follow a simple inference. Since it’s obvious you can’t, I’ll restate my post using words of one syllable:

    Ted say: Just folks led O on gay rights. What good he?
    I say: O and Dems can be led by just folks. Mitt and R’s not so much. That why O more good than Mitt.

    If you can’t grasp my point after that, I’m afraid you’re beyond help.

    Oh, and as a huge fan of all things Egyptian, let me tell you you’re unworthy of the name Sekhmet.

  3. How things go from being illegal to legal: laws are passed legalizing them.
    How things go from being immoral to moral: laws are passed legalizing them.

    You can look up the studies yourselves, folks. But basically, the reason people are more tolerant now to interracial marriage then they were in the past is because interracial marriage is now legal. Once something is declared “legal,” that settles it for a lot of people. Yes, there will still be hold-outs, but the general trend is that once a group gets a right, it is almost impossible to take that right away. Similarly, once the law permits something, people, for the most part, stop calling it “immoral.” They may not go all the way and say it’s “moral,” but once you’ve got it on the books as legit, that pretty much ends the issue.

    Thus, a leader, as the name states, leads. Obama and the anti-gay crowd shoudl be able to see the writing on the wall at this point and just move along with the rest of the world. They lost. In another 10 years, our only regrets about gay marriage will be that it means we get roped into buying more goddamned wedding presents. “Shit, Steve and Jonah are getting married on Cape Cod. Oh, Christ, I don’t have the time to go to Cape Cod. And perfect, the cheapest thing left on the registry is a frickin’ cappuccino maker at $300. They’re getting a $30 Mr. Coffee and a really nice card from me. They get married, and I’m the one getting screwed.”

  4. Great post, Ted, except for the very end where you say that America “debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.” This undercuts the people who actually did lead on this issue: gay rights advocates. They supported gay marriage long before it was popular, and have fought in many different arena to make it a reality. This involved changing laws and changing public opinion. It’s not like America just decided to think about it and realized they should be more just; that has never happened in history as far as I’m aware. Rather, a small (at first) group of people who knew that something was wrong resolved to change it. Obama’s not the leader, but a movement is.

    This is related to Anschelsc and Exkiodexian’s discussion. The answer isn’t to wait for the whole polity to become more just, Ex is write that that doesn’t happen. But Ans is write that hoping for some sky daddy to do it for us doesn’t work either. Get moving with some close friends (to reduce infiltration from the FBI) and get a movement started if you actually want to make some change.

  5. Whimsical demonstrates why he’s a worthless POS, a follower, a namby-pamby do-nothing liberal. A cheerleader. You know the type: The water cooler liberal who says, “well I was against the Iraq War but now that it’s start we MUST support the troops.”.

    Whimsical’s own screen name sums it up.

    whim·si·cal/ˈ(h)wimzikəl/:
    1. Playfully quaint or fanciful.
    2. Acting or behaving in a capricious manner.

    You could add:

    3. Worthless cheerleader.
    4. DNC lapdog.
    5. Enabler.
    6. Predictable bozo.

    That’s a much more complete definition.

  6. “Obama and the Democrats are capable of being led. Romney and the Republicans are not. ”

    Yes: a group of authoritarian followers, who worship the powerful and demand submission to the same, are incapable of being led.

    Everyone thank Whimsical for giving us our daily dose of stupid.

  7. @Ted

    ” The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

    Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.”

    Ah, Ted, you’re FINALLY getting a handle on the way politics actually works. Bout time!

    “So tell me—what good is he, exactly?”.

    Obama and the Democrats are capable of being led. Romney and the Republicans are not. Q.E.D.

  8. Um, exkiodexian, what you said raises a rather obvious question. If you don’t want the majority to choose the government, how *do* you propose we do it? If you want a “leader” who isn’t interested in what the majority of his constituents wants, take a look at Michael Bloomberg; he buys elections so he doesn’t worry about popular consent. Now no one can stop him when he tries to dismantle public sector unions or privatize low-income housing.

  9. If “leading from the back” means “doing what the majority of the people want” then that’s my idea of democratic government.

    How about if the majority of the people want to invade Iran and topple the government? You for that?
    How about if the majority of the people want to legitimize torture? You for that?

    And on and on.

    Sorry, but Ted is right. A leader leads. These comments are on the money.

    “True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible.”

    I hate to say it but the masses of asses are not always right, in fact they are often wrong. Personally, the ignorant hillbillies in the south are not worth spit to me. They have no ideology worth preserving and I DON’T want them to have a say in what happens going forward. The hicks I see on reality TV are not enlightened enough to be allowed to make important decisions, short of how much corn to put in the still. I want my leaders to LEAD them, not POLL them – especially when they’re a bunch of overfed, over-entertained Jesus freaks. Thanks, but no thanks.

  10. “the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage” “So tell me—what good is he, exactly?”

    I think that the demise of the vile DOMA would be good.

    He said what I wanted to hear. I prefer not to be demonized by the president.

  11. You know, I agree with your definition of leadership, but I’m not sure if I *want* a leader? If “leading from the back” means “doing what the majority of the people want” then that’s my idea of democratic government. I’m frankly none too comfortable with the “enlightened” leader who pushes his country “forward” kicking and screaming.

    By the way, your BDSM analogy is backwards, I think. The American people are topping from the bottom, by molding our leader’s views instead of accepting his. Since this is arguably a nonconsensual relationship (*I* didn’t sign any constitutions) subverting the power balance strikes me as a very good thing.

  12. It is reassuring to see that I’m not the only one who finds Obama’s behavior in this matter non-leaderly. But it’s what I’ve come to expect from him. He waits until he’s told what will satisfy the largest demographic (or a smaller demographic he’s trying to suck up to), and then he asserts that he’s is for (or against) whatever it is that that group is for (or against).

    His 2008 quote: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” is the same notion advanced by the people who said 30 years earlier “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman of the same race. I am not in favor of interracial marriage,” There is no difference in the two statements: both remove marriage as a right for one group while preserving it — and all the concomitant benefits that go with it — for another group.

    He really is just a stunningly appalling hypocrite. I never thought anyone could turn my stomach more than Ronald Reagan and all his telegenic lies and distortions. Then Dubya came along and set a brand new low. I think that if Obama gets a second term, he might manage to be even more loathsome that George W. Bush.

  13. How can you say Obama is not a leader? Individual health insurance policies, if one reads the fine print, cover nothing, so many deadbeats refused to buy them. By subjecting those deadbeats to fines and/or incarceration, Obama guaranteed those insurance companies at least a 30% increase in profits, and probably much more. That’s leadership.

    There were many, many criminals who had escaped the criminal justice system because nothing could be proved against them. Obama ordered many of them killed by drones, thereby dispensing justice without being limited by such archaic 20th century baggage as ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’. Again, great leadership.

    And, while it was under Bush, Jr that the masterminds of 9/11 confessed under ‘enhanced interrogation’ (NB it is strictly illegal, under US law, to call anything ordered by the President of the US against the Enemies of the State ‘torture’), it is well established that confessions obtained under ‘enhanced interrogation’ are all necessarily trve, but cannot be allowed in a civilian court, so Obama has led in the cause of TRVE IVSTICE, where lack of proof and evidence is no obstacle to conviction and execution.

    Of course, had these people not been captured and subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation’ by Bush, Jr., Obama would have just had them droned, saving the US the expense of ‘trials’, ‘trials’ that will require the expense of transporting the requisite marsupials from the Antipodes. Again, great leadership by Obama, far exceeding that shown by Bush, Jr.

  14. I’m gonna give him this one Ted, though I agree with you generally. I often think about an MLK Jr. quote when I think of Obama: “A leader is not a seeker of consensus, but a molder of consensus.”

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