Better late than never

Obama backs DOMA repeal.

Barack Obama backs repeal of DOMA, just as John McCain would have.

Oh … wait …

But you see, because he didn’t do it earlier, it’s really OK to continue to bash him for it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

13 thoughts on “Better late than never”

  1. So Barack is a cultural liberal. Is that a surprise? Didn’t Dick Cheney say he supported gays being open in the military when he served as Secretary of Defense under Bush I?

    Mark, folks like me don’t bash Barack Obama because he belatedly supports gay rights. We bash him because economically, he’s well to the right of Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Richard Nixon and sometimes even Ronald Reagan. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that even more important than anything like DOMA?

  2. Funny, I haven’t seen anybody bashing him for it. Wonder where Mark did? Everything I’ve read so far has been positive.

  3. Yeah, I gotta say, given the lack of criticism of Obama over this, I’m not sure what Prof. Kleiman is going for here.

    The professor can correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that we weren’t supposed to have criticized the President in the past – either for defending DOMA in court or for failing to support repeal – because we should have known he was going to get around to doing the right thing. Just as we should support him now in his failure to pursue adequate Keynesian stimulus, his offenses against human rights, his desire to excessively cut discretionary spending, his warmaking, etc. We should know that Obama means well, and is going to eventually try to do the right thing.

    Me, I’d give Obama’s critics a lot of credit for the DOMA actions. Obama didn’t want to do this until the politics of the situation were right. If nobody had given him any static, he could have dithered forever.

  4. Swift Loris says:

    “Funny, I haven’t seen anybody bashing him for it. Wonder where Mark did? Everything I’ve read so far has been positive.”

    Mark is tormented by visions of hippies dancing around him as he sleeps.

  5. I’ll commend Mr. Obama too. A smart move (in timing) as well as a Good move. Although it would be better described as a “safer” move. Factoring in all political calculations, it may have been the best way to proceed amongst an awful set of options.

    I try to remember what the President told us supporters back when he first took office (he was paraphrasing FDR, I believe, and I’m paraphrasing his remark): “You elected me to bring change. Now make me do it.” Regarding the litany of failures mentioned by others, I don’t think we’re out of line to point them out sans apologies. He asked for it. I knew he wasn’t as liberal as I liked when I voted for him. Not nearly so. But he promised change and change takes courage. Up to now he’s shown that in remarkably small measure.

    But I am encouraged by this move. My hope, my last remaining hope, is that if re-elected he’ll start live up to his promises in a 2nd term. Call me Charlie Brown…

  6. Timing matters. Lots of people — even Southern politicians — are anti-Jim Crow now, but few were in 1960. Further, if the president’s tardiness means that the law stays on the books for an extra few years that’s a few more years of legal rights being deprived a large number of people. Those years surely matter to those people, no?

  7. “Now make me do it”

    The Republicans, assuming he was speaking to them, took him at his word and “made him do it.”

    Now, that was easy.

  8. Mark is probably talking about Andy Sullivan (at times, with “The Fierce Urgency of Whenever”) and other gay rights activists who were angry at the slow pace & half-steps the Obama Administration has taken. I think in the end they’ll be pretty pleased with the results, but when it’s an issue that matters deeply to you personally, it’s hard not to get worked up when you see “your guy” triangulating, waiting patiently, moving cautiously…

    That’s just my guess.

  9. I think in the end they’ll be pretty pleased with the results,

    Well yeah, if memory serves, Sullivan has already said nice things about this. The question is: Exactly whom is Prof. Kleiman referring to when he suggests that people continue to bash Obama.

    As you say, I suspect Prof. Kleiman would rather that nobody complained about Obama’s previous stances on this, but that isn’t quite consistent with his words, and it wouldn’t make sense if that were his point.

  10. I cannot reject the “null hypothesis”, which suggests that Obama’s leading from the rear on this issue is the most effective way to make progress. Obama does not need to lead on this issue. He just needs to get out of the way, when the gay rights movement arrives at the gates, and anything he does — or, rather, prudently fails to do, or does slowly — which does not provoke or crystalize opposition on the Right, is good politics.

    Other commenters had made the point that Obama being “correct” on this issue does not redeem his economic policies or his civil liberties policies or his foreign policy.

    I would make a different observation: “gay marriage” and open military service are conservative-friendly and plutocrat-friendly policies. Dick Cheney is on the right side of these issues, as another commenter has observed. This is a highly conventional view of the place of homosexuality; it is not exactly subversive and counter-cultural, for those old enough to remember what those kinds of challenge from the Left once meant.

    Moreover, the force of lobbying on these issues comes from the interested Rich. Read the reports of Cuomo’s role in the recent legislation in New York State, and it is very clear that deep-pocketed donor-activists played a critical role. Gay lobby groups, like the Human Rights Campaign (nee Fund), have always had a core group of very rich supporters. This is political responsiveness to the very rich, and in no way breaks the pattern of the Obama Administration’s politics, even if the mass of people benefitting are far from rich.

    The erosion of taboos around sexuality, including homosexuality, have marked an incredibly rapid cultural change, even if it is over a period of 60 years. I tend to think that the Karl Rove strategy of pressing the hot button of gay rights, to up the turnout of reliably conservative voters, may have accelerated that erosion. Taboos have to be reinforced and renewed, by the enactment of dramatic scandals, with humiliation for the out-group members; dry reasoning about electoral propositions gradually takes away the emotional force of the taboo — combined with the tide of corporate cultural productions that make homosexuality conventional, and we get change.

    It is a change, however, which is happening against the backdrop of an increasing authoritarian legal and political system, one, which has accomplished massive financial and economic repression, and is girding for more. You don’t have to personalize this to Obama, to be seriously worried, that this is a battle won, during a war lost.

  11. I’m sorry, but Obama getting this right is like a college sophomore getting a B in a sea of D’s and F’s – so what. I don’t care that he is late on this issue – he’s so far behind on even larger issues and getting behinder every day. Whatever disarray his multi-dimensional chess has caused in the opposition hasn’t resulted in any improvement in our chances re: default, and what he has made clear he will give up is not going to improve government.

    Methinks that Mark is getting a bit defensive. Oh well.

  12. I cannot reject the “null hypothesis”, which suggests that Obama’s leading from the rear on this issue is the most effective way to make progress.

    But (as I suspect you realize) even in this scenario, the role of Obama’s critics is essential.

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