How Tony V’s Gay Marriage Gambit Hurts Obama


Calbuzz, a voice of Truth, Justice and the American Way, stands with those fighting for the defense of marriage — squarely against the morality mullahs who would limit the blessed institution to a union of one man and one woman.

As long and as happily married as your Calbuzzards are, we think everyone should be able to get married. Hell, like the good Wisconsin townspeople, we’d have tossed rice if Lars Lindstrom had wed Bianca, his sex doll. And besides, the LGBT community should have equal access to nasty, messy divorces, just like straight couples have.

But we’re not running for president. Nor is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But Barack Obama – who made Hizzoner chairman of the Democratic National Convention (doubtless purely on merit, not because of any ethnicity issues) – is. And, as everyone knows, a presidential election is not a plebiscite but a battle to win 270 electoral votes in state-by-state contests – including swing states with muscular evangelical operations.

Which is why it seems a self-serving, irresponsible, back-stabbing move by Tony V to call – almost as soon as he was named chairman – for the Democratic Party’s platform to include a plank supporting gay marriage. (A move, we understand, not cleared with the Obama campaign in advance.)

Most – but by no means, all – members of the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything agree with our analysis.

As one Republican panelist put it:

Even though public acceptance of gay marriage is increasing, the Democrats putting support of gay marriage in their platform is lunacy. This idea needs to be scuttled quickly. With GOP tilting increasingly rightward, the Democrats have an opportunity to capture the middle by being rational and reasonable. There is no reason to hand the Culture Warriors a weapon to use in culturally conservative states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Said an equally emphatic Democrat:

Even though the party platform is an essentially meaningless document, Villaraigosa’s move unnecessarily put the president in a pickle. The Romney campaign will use this as an opportunity to build a bridge that had been burned with evangelicals. Meanwhile, it doesn’t win the president a single additional vote. With the exception of a few vocal dissenters, the gay community has given the president a pass on this issue because they know the political downside in swing states. That said, it’s a smart move for Villaraigosa if he’s seriously looking at the governor’s office or a U.S. Senate seat in the near future and needs to one up Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on this issue.

Why we live in California, Chapter 36: In California – where a restrictive constitutional definition of marriage was thrown out by the courts — at least six in 10 voters are ready to accept gay marriage along with traditional heterosexual unions, according to various polls. But public opinion in California, where Obama will have no trouble winning, is ahead of the curve.

In Ohio, for example, an October 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 55% of voters said same-sex marriage should be illegal (although 62% supported legal recognition of same-sex couples – a position akin to Obama’s).

In Florida – where voters amended the state constitution in 2008 by a vote of 62-38% to define marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife” – a  March 2011 survey by PPP found that only 28% of Florida voters supported the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In other key swing states – like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, for example – the last thing Obama needs is a fired-up evangelical base over gay marriage, an issue on which he has chosen to walk a fine line.

None of which appears to concern Tony V.

Remind me why we picked this guy? Here are some of the not-so-flattering assessments of Villaraigosa, from Republicans and Democrats alike:

— It’s a selfish and self-serving move on the mayor’s part. It’s easy to beat his chest about gay marriage as he plots his political future in California. But Obama and swing state Democrats are not helped by this. Of course, Antonio couldn’t care less.

It’s slam-dunk smart politics for Governor Villaraigosa who is still chasing Gavin Newsom as a LGBT leader, but it does potentially complicate matters for the president.

— Of course Antonio would propose something that makes Antonio look good in California whether it hurts the President in swing states or not. Why would anybody expect any different behavior from this guy?

— The real question is why Villaraigosa is doing this, when he is reportedly angling for a high-level post in the Obama administration. Publicly pushing the president on a delicate issue isn’t the best path to an appointment in the second term.  Is this platform push a sign that his career is headed in a different direction?

— The mayor will find that living in California isn’t like living in the rest of the country.  He’ll just drive Obama further left, or leave him betraying yet another part of his base.  No invites to the White House for Antonio in the next few months.

What’s the big deal? Not every member of our Calbuzz panel condemns Villaraigosa or the idea of the Democratic Party adopting a gay marriage plank. Some Republicans and Democrats think it’s a good idea or not much of an issue.

— It’s a smart move. If Democrats approve it in their platform, support and contributions will ignite for LGBT community — and they will once again be on right side of history.   Anyone who would not vote for Obama because of this issue would never vote for Obama anyway.

— It’s not without risk, but I say do it. Gay marriage has subsided as an issue, even on the right, and polling suggests an inexorable march of public opinion toward acceptance. The LGBT community couldn’t be any more alienated from the GOP, so let’s further goose that community for Democrats in this critical election year.

— The only places this debate will have any effect are already Republican – their essential problem is that they seem to be more capable of getting the true believers to sing louder rather than growing the choir.

— I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised by how much attention party platforms get. They are always to the left or right of the candidate and never seem to be helpful. In this case, however, I think we’ve moved past a place where the gay marriage issue hurts or hinders a national presidential candidate. I guess that’s some progress. 

— It’s not a big issue. Obama won’t flip flop on it until after the election if he’s re-elected. This is an economic election.

— The president has been in a precarious position on this matter for long enough. Since it has been raised this way, his “evolving position” needs to actually “evolve.”  I think he thought with his DADT move he was done.  He’s obviously not.  So, he is pretty much forced into a position of saying he supports marriage equality.  I think it will solidify voters against him who would have been against him anyway and may make a few of the swing states seem more vulnerable to the press.  But, it will also give energy to his base that has little to get excited with him about lately.  In the end, it is the right move and he will be able to sustain it through the year.  His campaign really needs energy back in it — not just an electorate that doesn’t like the alternative. To be honest, the hardest thing for him to explain will be why he waited until now to take this position, if he goes ahead and does it.

Heart vs. head: This, we think, is mostly whistling past the graveyard. Analysis from panelists who consider the right-wing culture warriors a serious force in critical swing states is, we think, more persuasive. To wit:

— In huge swaths of the country, marriage equality is an 50/50 issue or has majority support. Unfortunately, a lot of key swing states aren’t in that swath. This issue is snowballing at the state level and the right path to full marriage equality is to keep moving forward one state at a time. While obviously correct from a moral standpoint, its bad strategy to press it as a national issue in this cycle. Eight years from now marriage equality will be the national norm, but the facts this year suggest the president should stay out.

— I can’t remember the last time s party platform had much impact or the last time a mayor prevailed over an incumbent president on platform contents. This is a clever publicity ploy of marginal value. Obama will still be for marriage being for a man and a woman — he needs to contest North Carolina and Virginia. And New Mexico and Iowa.

— Party activists spend hundreds of hours debating platform provisions that are ignored by candidates.  Candidates pay attention only when a fringe plank threatens to gain momentum and get adopted, or the language used is truly off message. And marriage equality doesn’t rise to that level. Whether marriage equality is in the platform will have zero impact on Obama’s position. The Obama campaign seems to have made a calculation that maintaining the status quo is the best way to navigate the dangerous water between his progressive donors pushing for equality and the moderate voters in swing states.

— The balancing act here is to continue to make case privately — as they have been doing aggressively — to the LGBT community that the Obama administration has already done more for gay rights with DADT and other actions than any president in history. And he will be able to do far more as a second-termer. Patience for seven more months in exchange for watershed civil rights achievements is a deal worth taking.

How damaging could it be? Finally, one Democrat on our panel in particular sees Villaraigosa’s gambit as particularly damaging – perhaps fatal – to Obama’s campaign.

– Bad idea. Ask John Kerry who he blames (Gavin Newsom) for losing Ohio in 2004. The president will have to distance himself from gay marriage again, which will result in suppressing part of the Democratic base vote, while the GOP will exploit the issue to motivate their base. As Mark Barabak wrote in the LA Times today, the election hinges on “a narrow slice of voters in a limited number of states.”  As much as the polls have shifted re: gay marriage, the numbers are not there for those folks who make up that narrow slice of voters in the limited number of swing states. So the mayor will have effectively suppressed the Democratic vote, motivated the GOP base vote, and alienated enough swing voters who decide the election to bring Democrats defeat in November.  So we will get to thank two California mayors, eight years apart, for causing Democrats to lose the presidential election on the gay marriage issue. Great.


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar centralcoastcentrist says:

    To all the Dems on the panel who wrote that this was a good idea, or not much of an issue: you’re the reason why being a progressive has become such a pejorative term. It’s the economy, stupid … not gay marriage.

    What is it with Dems, and I am a lifelong Dem, that makes them place slippery banana peels under their leaders feet so consistently? It’s not just swing states … it’s swing, independent voters will gasp in incredulity that Dems would choose to make this a signature issue while we’re still in the Great Recession. It confirms the stereotype of liberals pandering to their perceived base while ignoring the economic struggles of the vast middle class under siege.

    The quote from the last Dem suggesting it’s a very bad idea is spot on. Way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Obama ought to kick Tony V out of the spotlight now!

  2. avatar Hank Plante says:

    President Obama brought much of this dilemma on himself. His continuing to “evolve” on gay marriage is indicative of him trying to have it both ways (forgive the expression). This week he refused to sign an Executive Order banning anti-gay discrimination among federal contractors. That has been met in the gay community with serious blowback (forgive that expression too). In his quest for the center he is alienating a solid base of LGBT voters who are out of patience.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Actually “the expression” was my favorite part of the whole discussion. Thanks for making me smile.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      “Out of patience?” — You mean they’d rather see Mitt Romney appoint the next vacancies on the Supreme Court, command the military and shape health care policy? That would be blowback, indeed.

  3. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    It would seem Tony V has also forgotten (or chosen to ignore) recent electoral history, insomuch as Prop 8 enjoyed significant support in the African-American community despite blacks being essentially a monolithic vote for Obama in 2008. While not a “wedge” issue per se, most of the analysts are dead-on in suggesting that pushing this particular plank may cause an “excitement deficit” in a crucial part of Obama’s 2012 target electorate.

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