Monday, December 19, 2011

Is Barack Obama Prepping A Pitch to Gay Voters

While much of the Obama re-election strategy seems largely based on a hope/wish that the Republicans will nominate such a nutcase that by default Obama will be the only rational choice, there still is a need to mobilize progressive and minority group voters. With Bob McDonnell's win in Virginia in 2009, its clear that the Democrats cannot rely on a song and dance that "our candidate is not as bad as the other guy" to carry the day and move voters to get out to the polls. And many minority group voters are less than happy with Obama on many fronts. One such minority group, of course, is the LGBT community. While Obama delivered the repeal of DADT by the skin of his teeth at the 11th hour and has ceased to support DOMA in court cases, he still is dilly dallying on the issue of same sex marriage and nothing has been achieved on the passage of ENDA. Politico looks at what may be the Obama camp's effort to re-energize LGBT voters for 2012. Frankly, in my view, absent a shift in Obama's stance on marriage, his campaign's game plan will still fall short. Here are some highlights:

It seemed at first a major violation of message discipline: Shaun Donovan, President Barack Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development, “absolutely” endorsed same-sex marriage in an interview last month, a position in contrast with his boss, who famously declared that his own views on the issue are “evolving.” Perhaps more remarkable than Donovan’s statement is what happened in its aftermath: Nothing.

Donovan’s statement came in the midst of a series of high-profile gay rights initiatives. Taken as a whole, the moves fit well into the sales pitch Obama’s 2012 campaign is ready to make to the gay and lesbian community: We’ve done more for gay rights in our first three years than most administrations do in eight — and we’re not done yet.

The repeal of the ban on gays in the military and dropping the court fight to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act, Moulton said, were major items on the gay-rights agenda. And Obama also signed a tough new hate-crimes law, mandated equal treatment for gay patients in the health-care system and made big-dollar commitments to HIV-AIDS research and patient care.

“The initial question the president faces is, does he come out for same sex marriage now or after the election?” said Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, a gay rights organization. With polls trending toward public acceptance of gays and lesbians tying the knot, he said, “it may be riskier to wait.”

Endorsing gay marriage now, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote recently, could help Obama win back skeptical moderate voters and rekindle flagging enthusiasm among young people, who broadly support marriage equality. . . . Advocates argue that support for gay marriage could be Obama’s secret weapon for the 2012 election.

The president, a spokesman said, “is proud of the accomplishments he and his administration have made to advance the rights of the LGBT community, and we look forward to continuing to make progress on these important issues.”

But skeptics believe the administration’s promotion of its accomplishments edges close to “fair-weather advocacy,” cozying up to a core constituency just before a tough election.

Others complain that, while Obama’s list of gay-rights accomplishments are many, the whole isn’t greater than the sum of the parts — particularly because Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the latte a close friend of the president, both signed gay marriage into state law.

Still, even his critics agree that Obama has done more for gays and lesbians in one term than any recent two-term president — for example, hiring a record number of gay administration staffers along with ending sexual-identity discrimination in federal hires and in publicly subsidized housing. Just months before his reelection campaign begins in earnest, the president and his surrogates have highlighted significant new initiatives aimed at promoting equality.

And in a Geneva, Switzerland, speech commemorating Human Rights Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “gay rights are human rights” and that no one deserves mistreatment “just because of their sexual orientation.”

Overall, Obama’s first-term strategy was “to try and do as many of these noncontroversial, small-scale initiatives as possible and hope that they would collectively build up,” as accomplishments “that wouldn’t offend anybody in the process,” Socarides said.

That strategy, he added, has largely paid off:Gays “have fared much better” under Obama than any other president, doubt has subsided about whether he put his muscle into the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and his support in the community is strong.

But Socarides and others suggest Obama could galvanize the base and overcome “a little bit of an enthusiasm gap” among gays if he stood for same-sex marriage. “It’s an issue that excites a lot of voters, particularly with young people, and it can be a good issue for [progressive] Democratic voters,” he said.

In April, The New York Times reported, a CNN poll showed 51 percent believe marriage between same-sex couples “should be recognized by the law as valid.” It was the fourth credible poll in two years to show an outright majority of Americans untroubled by gay marriage.

One political activist and Obama supporter said the president’s empathy and support for the gay community is sincere, but his reluctance to stand for same-sex mariage — the holy grail in gays’ decades-long quest for equality — hints at a missed emotional connection.

“The fact that you can’t go that extra step is frustrating and is hard to sell to some people,” said the activist, speaking on background because of the sensitive nature of his work. “They’ve got themselves twisted in knots over this” because of aversion to controversy, a sensitivity that risks overshadowing their accomplishments and puts them behind rapidly shifting public opinion.

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