In the case of Mitt Romney, when it comes to civil rights issues, he is not his father’s son.
His dad was a good guy—as Michigan’s governor, he marched for civil rights, embraced women’s rights and helped labor unions to obtain fairer treatment at the bargaining table in Michigan—and it was always reasonable to hope that the kid would inherit at least some honorable qualities.
But Mitt Romney’s response to President Obama’s announcement of support for marriage equality has been so tone deaf and exploitive that I suspect even George Romney would be disappointed in the kid. The presumptive Republican nominee for president says: "I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name." And his campaign has indicated that it intends to make a big deal about the president’s shift in stance. Romney’s senior adviser, Ed Gillespie, says the Romney camp is prepared to campaign on the issue of enacting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
So one of the wealthiest and most elite men ever to seek the presidency of the United States will campaign on a promise to use the constitution of the United States to bar equal protection under the law.
This is not the way Romneys used to respond to the march of social progress.
When President John Kennedy clearly and unequivocally embraced the civil rights cause—by very publicly inviting the organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to the White House—George Romney was the rising star of the Republican Party and a potential rival to Kennedy. Yet, he hailed the president for doing the right thing. Indeed, he prodded Kennedy to do a bit more.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, seems to be in the "If Obama’s fer it, I’m agin’ it" camp. And there are no signs that he will try to guide his Republican Party toward a moderate stance on what remains a hot-button social issue. Which, of course, explains why President Obama is likely to win the 2012 election over the lesser Romney.
Obama’s embrace of marriage equality, while typically tortured and over-cautious, was entirely appropriate morally.
It was also VERY smart politics.
National polling shows that most Americans favor marriage equality, but there remains a solid 45 percent that is opposed.
On the surface, that might seem like a serious concern for a politician who would prefer to be liked to everybody—or, at the least, most everybody.
But presidential politics is not a national affair. It is a series of state elections. And opposition to marriage equality is disproportionally concentrated in the south, border states and the interior west—where Obama is never going to win.
There are also pockets of significant opposition in some battleground states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. But, again, the most fervent foes of same-sex marriage have a lot of other problems with Obama. So his shift in stance is not pushing away many voters. Even among the older voters of Florida, who may not be all that comfortable with "the love that dare not speak its name" speaking its name, there are other priorities—like keeping Romney and Paul Ryan from bartering off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
So Obama’s not risking much by endorsing same-sex marriage. But he is gaining a lot.
The greatest challenge for Obama’s 2012 reelection strategy is—or, perhaps we should say, "was"—a lack of enthusiasm among the young voters who got so excited about his 2008 campaign. And young voters like marriage equality, a lot. It polls over 70 percent, according to Gallup. Indeed, polling suggests that, among all the Republican Party stances that most trouble young voters, it is the GOP’s opposition to LGBT rights that most unsettled them.
Smart Republicans, and there really are quite a few of them, recognize this reality.
That’s why the party’s LGBT wing—and, yes, there are gay and lesbian Republicans—is objecting so loudly to Mitt Romney’s morally and politically inappropriate response to Obama’s statement.
Marriage equality has captured the nation’s attention, and the response to President Obama’s announcement is evidence of the tide turning in favor of equality for all. Log Cabin Republicans have long believed that supporting the freedom to marry is the right thing to do and the president’s joining this effort is in the nation’s best interest. That said, Americans can be certain that the president would not have made this decision at this time if it were not in his best political interests. In addition to energizing his base and distracting attention from a failed economic record, the trap is laid for any Republican who responds with intolerance,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Already some in the GOP are taking the bait with former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie bringing up the twice-failed Federal Marriage Amendment and the unfortunate vote on Representative Heulskamp’s (R-KS) amendment re-affirming DOMA last night. Democrats are eager to fundraise off of this issue. It is in the best interests of Republican candidates to be measured and disciplined in response, recognizing that a generational shift has occurred.”
The Log Cabin Republicans are not always right.
But they are right on this issue. As Cooper says, “Governor Mitt Romney’s statement in opposition to not just marriage but civil unions jeopardizes his ability to win moderates, women and younger voters, especially as a large majority of Americans favor some form of relationship recognition for their LGBT friends and neighbors. Ultimately, the response of the Republican candidates this election cycle will determine not just endorsements by Log Cabin Republicans, but the votes of millions of Americans who are simply tired of the culture wars.”
Unlike George Romney, who embraced the future and urged his party to do the same, Mitt Romney is not just clinging to the past. He is presiding over a camaign and a party that appears to be intent on pretending that this is 1912, as opposed to 2012. That miscalculation is explains why the the Obama camp is so enthusiastically highlighting the president’s new position—and why savvy Republicans are so fretful.