As a rule I’ve never been that much into politics. My closest flirtations with such a thing were a few forays into class president elections in grade school where my campaign speeches were mainly just an excuse to do silly skits, at least one of which I remember involved me being fake assassinated. It seemed funny at the time.
As a representative example of how closely I was following this latest presidential election: as recently as last Monday I had no idea who Nate Silver was. His 90% prediction of an Obama win, including carrying Virginia, seemed ludicrously optimistic based on all the snippets I’d been hearing about the race being too close to call, and yet when all the votes were counted his electoral forecast came out even more accurately than it did in 2008.
When the networks (including Fox of all places) started calling Obama the winner minutes after the polls closed on the West Coast, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t join in with my wife’s cheering, not with Ohio still only about 70% counted and seeming razor thin. I guess I’m just a pessimist at heart, always thinking things will go wrong somehow. It wasn’t until Romney finished his concession speech that I relaxed. No one’s ever gone back on a concession speech, not even Gore, and his loss was much more questionable.
So yeah, I supported Obama. GWB had eight years to break the country, it’s only fair to give his successor eight years to fix it.
I’m not here to talk about that, but about the other shocker for me that only sunk in maybe a day or two after the election was over. For over a decade, gay rights has been an issue the Republican party was constantly using as a bugaboo scare tactic. The whole “center-right nation” narrative rested in part on the idea that no serious politician could possibly embrace platforms like marriage equality and hope for election, especially on a national level. As recently as 2010 the White House was notoriously quiet, or even complicit, in keeping the discrimination alive.
Yes, I said discrimination. There is no difference–NONE–between passing amendments banning same-sex marriage between consenting Americans, and passing amendments banning marriages between, say, a black man and white woman. There wasn’t even a bullshit separate-but-equal argument this time around in terms of the same opportunities being afforded to people, just a flat out locking of the doors. Anyone who thinks a marriage and a domestic partnership are the same has never looked into the latter. But beyond that was the same old tired rhetoric of it being against God’s will or threatening traditional values.
Pro tip: if your traditional values represent something awful, like considering other human beings as somehow less than human, undeserving of the same rights and opportunities you enjoy? They need to be threatened. That’s how it fell out in the 1960s, and when the dust settled America was the better for it. In 2008 I experienced the shame of watching Proposition 8 get passed in California, and clearly remember the irony of a co-worker (a black man) being quizzed on his support of the measure and coming up with no better defense than pounding his fist and angrily repeating “It changes society!”
Yes, yes it does. So did the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For that matter, so did the Thirteenth Amendment.
Then again, a hundred years had to pass between those two events. Hell, ten years had to pass between Brown vs. Board of Education and the Act mentioned above. People just don’t change that fast.
Or at least, that’s what I resigned myself to. And then on Tuesday night, not only did Minnesota reject a gay marriage ban, but Washington, Maine, and Maryland all became new states where a majority of voters took a stand affirming the right of homosexual couples to marry. Now perhaps none of these are real shockers considering how reliably “blue” all the states in question are. Even the fact that legalized gay marriage has gone unchallenged in Iowa for five years is not utterly bizarre… the split for and against is about 50/50, but the overwhelming majority of Iowans just think it would be a goddamn waste of time to bring it up when their legislature could be working on more important things.
No, what’s crazy is that… well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch the Democratic National Convention. So I missed out on the whole bit where marriage equality became a visible plank in the party platform. Four years ago mainstream Democrats wouldn’t touch the issue… and I know back in May, Obama made his official announcement in support of gay marriage, but I hadn’t realized it was going to percolate through the ranks and remain something not only Barack but other candidates were willing to risk their careers on. Demonization of homosexuals was something Karl Rove used to great effect. Embracing pro-gay issues was suicide.
But on Tuesday, Obama and a good number of those Democrats won, while Rove imploded (on live TV, no less). The first openly gay Senator was elected. A President whose inaugural first-term address was introduced by homophobic Prop 8 supporter Reverend Rick Warren, made a victory speech that as far as I know is the first time ever a President has added “gay or straight” to the usual callouts of equality in race, color, and creed.
This still does not add up to an overnight change, but it sure does seem like a seismic shift from where things were just a few years ago. The number of states banning gay marriage does outnumber the states affirming it, but the message may finally start to be getting out that this is not okay. It is unconstitutional, and, I daresay, completely flies in the face of the whole “pursuit of happiness” clause. To be fair, I’m not even sure Obama himself supported the whole “Adam and Steve” thing when he took office, but as he told a meeting of pro-gay activists in 2010, “attitudes evolve, including mine.”
In that same meeting Obama also stated, “The one thing I will say today is I think it’s pretty clear where the trend lines are going.” He gambled that the tides were shifting along with his attitudes, and while I won’t say support of gay marriage won him the election, it certainly didn’t cause him to lose it. That’s a good precedent. I suppose you could say it makes you believe in evolution. Gay rights still has a long way to go, but is now a mainstream cause enjoying the support of the highest office in the land.
I wonder if we can get Nate Silver to do a forecast?
For why I shouldn’t have been shocked by the election at all, read David’s rant about how the media coverage failed us.