And before Obama claims he didn’t have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we’ll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same. But instead he chose to defend DOMA, denigrate our civil rights, go back on his promises, and contradict his own statements that DOMA was “abhorrent.” Folks, Obama’s lawyers are even trying to diminish the impact of Roemer and Lawrence, our only two big Supreme Court victories. Obama is quite literally destroying our civil rights gains with this brief. He’s taking us down for his own benefit.
Anyone who knows me well or reads me often is aware that I think the way activists have pursued SSM is self-defeating and naive, but it requires a particularly egregious level of naivete to be blindsided by this development at this point. Thus far, the Obama administration has manifested a preference for big donors with lots of people and power to leverage. Gay activism doesn’t fit those criteria. It’s loyally Democratic and has plenty of donors who (for individuals) give a lot, but its aggregate power isn’t major. And that’s leaving aside the possibility that Obama may be perfectly fine with gay people’s living our lives but just seriously believe that DOMA isn’t unconstitutional. I will say I find it droll to read that the Obama administration has suddenly taken it into its head to worry about how “scarce” government resources are and thus to be all parsimonious and judicious and stuff in allocating them to people who really, really deserve them. Where was that attitude during Bailout Fest a few months ago?
Actually, this episode leads me back to a question that’s nagged at me ever since the Obama candidacy started taking over the airwaves: Liberal friends, doesn’t all this uncritical adulation for a politician worry you? I mean, I know you like the guy. I know you were sick of Bush and the GOP and were excited for a change. My libertarian heart and brain suspected that I wasn’t going to like Obama’s policy directions, but I understood why other people were willing to take a risk on him.
But a lot of other people were True Believers, a type I recognize from my extreme-right/fundie upbringing. It’s that part that I think is insalubrious. Their faith in Obama is nonfalsifiable—he’s going to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t do the right thing, that just proves that he’s a pragmatist who’s willing to make the hard compromises that are sometimes necessary, so he really is basically doing the right thing—until they get a kick in the teeth that’s too powerful to spin away. Then they freak. And you can expect it to happen more and more often, because Obama’s been idolized by so many people with so many (ahem) diverse ideologies that, even if he were a paragon of principle, he’d inevitably end up screwing over large numbers of them.
This is why I’m unmoved when friends complain that I’m too cynical about politics. Being suspicious of the motives of those who hold state power may make you gretzier after watching the news, but it at least ensures that you don’t make the mistake of equating politicians with rock stars. Celebrities can be Guardians of our Collective Dreams, but politicians set policy backed by the coercive power of the state. That means we should be searching out all available information about them and evaluating it unsparingly, so that we can make the most educated possible prediction of what they’re going to do once we give them the keys to the office. Swooning unreservedly over an untested politician may give you a nice glow now, but it’s a recipe for heartache later. You have no one to blame but yourselves when your misapplied religious impulse comes back and bites you.
* I mean, of course, cautious in general, not cautious in the sense that I share Aravosis’s beliefs about SSM.
Added later: Dale Carpenter has a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy:
Historically federal marriage benefits have been available to anyone married under state law. The federal definition was parasitic on the state definition. If a state chose to allow 14-year-olds to marry, but most states did not allow that, nobody thought federal recognition of such marriages functioned as a subsidy forced on the taxpayers of other states. DOMA changed that, but only for gay marriages. “Neutrality,” as the Obama administration understands it, does not mean federal recognition of state choices in this matter. It means denying federal recognition of state choices.
My point here is not to claim that the DOJ’s arguments are anti-gay, homophobic, or even wrong. Much of the brief seems right to me, or at least entirely defensible, as a matter of constitutional law. My point is only to note how much continuity there is in this instance, as in others, between the Bush and Obama administrations. In short, there’s little in this brief that could not have been endorsed by the Bush DOJ. A couple of rhetorical flourishes here and there might have been different. Perhaps a turn of phrase. But, minus some references to procreation and slippery slopes, the substance is there.
Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a “fierce advocate” for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?