Strong enemies, fickle friends

Barack Obama uses Father’s Day to extend recognition to gay couples. The Religious Right notices. Friends of gay rights don’t notice. Not good.

Did you catch this? I didn’t. It’s from the President’s Father’s Day proclamation, not generally a source of breaking news.

Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian.

Pure Obama: strong but unemphatic. “Two fathers” dropped, seemingly casually, into the middle of a list, and suddenly the President is officially recognizing the fact that gay couples, too, raise children, and sometimes do it well.

Steve Benen makes fun of the Christian Right for going off about this, but it seems to me that the American Family Association has gauged its importance more accurately than Steve has. “Two innocuous words”? Not in the context of the gay-marriage debate.

But what strikes me hardest about this is that I’m only hearing about it via Obama’s right-wing critics. The Victory Fund, which sends out a press release every time a lesbian is elected dogcatcher, hasn’t bothered to mention that the President decided to use Father’s Day to reach out to gay couples. As far as I can find, none of the bloggers who have savaged Obama as a coward and a closet homophobe for not endorsing gay marriage and going slow on DADT and inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Inaugural bothered to notice this completely unforced, and predictably costly, pro-gay gesture.

As Machiavelli says, the problem with trying to make change is that you have strong enemies and lukewarm allies. But it seems to me that there’s something else at work here: progressives, who ever since Vietnam have been somewhat abashed about expressing patriotism, also tend to feel a little bit queasy when they hear a President being praised. Maybe it’s just grass-is-greener envy, but I think the right wing does a better job of backing its allies in office. Sometimes – as with Nixon and Bush II – that comes back to bit them. But mostly it helps them get their way.

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:

4 thoughts on “Strong enemies, fickle friends”

  1. A reference to "two fathers" in the middle of a speech is not an endorsement of, or even recognition of, gay marriage, any more than a reference to "Jehovah" is an endorsement of, or recognition of, Judaism. Also, since Obama has long supported civil unions for gay couples, this isn't actually in any way "news". For actual gay couples, a second-class quasi-marriage isn't really an acceptable substitute for the real thing, and speaking out obliquely in favor of it is a pretty minor act.

  2. Long time lurker here.

    I didn't hear this but I'm reminded of the Inauguration speech where he mentioned people of no faith. I commented to the then GF that it was the first time in my memory that a president had included me in a statement.

  3. I noticed the President mentioned families with "two mothers" in the Mothers Day proclamation and was looking to see whether the Fathers Day proclamation would have similar language. As half of a two-father couple, I was glad to see it did.

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