Democracy Made the President ‘Do It’
By Bob Cesca: The funniest thing I’ve heard in the last 24 hours was this: “We’ve arrived at the point where the president of the United States is going to lead a war on traditional marriage.”
That was of course Rush Limbaugh reacting to the president’s remarks in support of same-sex marriage yesterday.
The ridiculousness of Limbaugh’s statement was obvious, even if you’re hepped up on Oxycontin. A radio disc jockey who’s been married and divorced three times, and who once traveled to the Dominican Republican with a bunch of guys and, mysteriously, a bottle of Viagra, accused a happily married (never divorced) father of two children of “leading a war on traditional marriage.”
That’s so goddamn funny. I’m still waiting for Andy Kaufman to pop out of that latex rubber Limbaugh suit and laugh his ass off.
Naturally, Limbaugh was probably aware of his hypocrisy and really didn’t give a flying rip how silly he came off to anyone familiar with his back story. See, Limbaugh really doesn’t talk much about his personal “war” against traditional marriage. He’s never talked about why, exactly, he needed all of that Viagra in the Dominican Republic when there were no female companions on the trip. Limbaugh’s goal, as always, was to antagonize, poke and incite without any connection to reality or consistency. This is simply what the far-right does now.
Nevertheless, Limbaugh is too much of a coward when it comes to discussing his personal history with marriage (and marriage and marriage), especially as it relates to his homophobic comments about “traditional” marriage.
On the other hand, there’s President Obama.
The way he attached the issue of same-sex marriage to his very honest and sincere personal evolution augmented his announcement to ABC News and made it more poignant and relatable to what’s happening all across America. We’re a nation that’s rapidly figuring out — now with majority support — that marriage equality couldn’t possibly harm or diminish straight marriages and, in fact, the growing inclusion of same-sex couples only strengthens marriage by welcoming more people to the institution. It goes without saying, however, that Americans, like the president, have been a little too slow on the uptake on this one area of LGBT civil rights, but that’s always how societal evolution, much like natural evolution, functions. Too damn slow.
But the glacial pace of the president’s deliberations, as well as the paralleled societal view on same-sex marriage will probably benefit its soon-to-be legalization on a national level. If it had been pushed too soon, there might have been a crippling backlash.
President Clinton’s early and crushingly unsuccessful moves on “gays in the military” led to some wickedly harsh blowback, first in the form of the awful Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and, later, The Defense of Marriage Act. So perhaps the slowness worked, though, to be sure, that wasn’t part of the president’s motivation or strategy. From various accounts, it sounded like he was going to take more time with the issue until the vice president pulled the trigger on the topic.
Civil rights transformations always happen from the ground up. It was like that with Lincoln and slavery, it was like that with LBJ and the Civil Rights Act and it’s been like that with LGBT issues. Great democratic leaders often wait for The People to lead the way first. It’s often a frustrating yet ultimately a productive hallmark of representative democracy. America is slow and sometimes we have to get out and push. We sometimes have to go door-to-door to convince our neighbors that it’s the right thing to do — whatever “it” might be.
The president once echoed FDR and insisted that we make him do “it.” And in this case, activists, writers and other politicians (Joe Biden of all people) made him do it. That’s not to say he wasn’t almost all the way there — his roster of successes on LGBT civil rights is unprecedented. But to finally come out with it yesterday was the result of We The People making him do it. (I’d like to think it was the sensible voices on the left who exercised smart accountability and reasoned arguments, but it’s difficult to know yet. Though according to the president, his closest friends and staffers had a large part to play, and we can only assume they were respectful to their boss.)
So the event we witnessed yesterday was absolutely democracy in action. We the people tenaciously informed our chief executive exactly what we wanted, and this particular chief executive responded accordingly and reflected back to us our own national story — our own evolution — on this issue. And now we can expect that he’ll take the lead and exercise his part of the democratic bargain: change the law and make marriage equality the law of the land.