Monday, December 25, 2006

Issue Date: 12/21/2006, Posted On: 12/18/2006

Political intelligence

Kevin John Sowyrda

The hoof prints are still on the faces of anxious New Hampshire residents who flocked to touch and gawk at the very junior U.S. Senator Barak Obama, who visited the first-in-the-nation primary state Dec. 10. People were trampling each other to get a glimpse, to nail down a photo or actually touch the personage himself. You'd have thought Elvis was back in the building.

Obama hails from the Land of Lincoln and his strategy, thus far, is hardly as noble as his state's namesake. His playbook seems to have three themes: to not be Hillary Clinton, to not be Hillary Clinton and, last, to not be Hillary Clinton.

So what's behind this simplistic strategy of not being that other senator — from New York? And what's behind the suit, the pretty face, the distinctive, baritone voice and the half-way decent communication skills? Glad you asked. Behind it all is very young and overanxious progressive-on-not-all-issues who lacks the integrity and conviction and intestinal fortitude to take a brave stand on whether same-sex couples should get the civil right to marry. Obama is publicly opposed to such rights and first said so when he successfully ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996 (the year that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress and signed by then-President Clinton). Let me drive this point home. Before you donate your hard earn green backs to the draft Obama web page, consider the fact that the man who preaches freedom and justice for all believes in a proviso that you and I get the entire package of 'rights-Americana,' except that chunk of the package called marriage. This tells me one thing about Obama: Like most other politicians, he makes his policy decisions with the help of a wet finger to the wind. Those afflicted with Obama-mania, which is the belief that Obama is a new kind of politician, one who speaks truth to power while honoring and respecting all sides of a debate (not to mention, um, the fact that desperate Democratic politicos believe that Obama can connect with evangelicals), fail to realize that he’s no different than every other pol. He listens to political consultants. "Your abortion views are going to cost you enough problems in the South and the Rust Belt," I can imagine them chirping in his ear. "But if you champion causes like the Marshall Ruling in Massachusetts, legalizing gay marriage, it will drive too many moderates away for you to have a chance in a general election."

Had I just five minutes of face time with Obama, I’d advise him against making decisions based on conventional polling data. Many people appear to be strongly opposed to gay marriage until you follow the question with two others — how important do you rank this issue and do you want your gay friends and family members to experience prejudice? Second, I'd ask Obama to do what he says he wants to do — lead! Leadership is about saying the things other people are afraid to say. Leadership is about putting it all on the table. A real leader would put this issue in the context in which it belongs and pose the question this way: With one of out two marriages ending in divorce, does anyone seriously believe that letting same-sex couples marry will make things worse?

But none of this will happen. Obama's pre-campaign is about the proverbial dog and pony show. Look great. Say very little. And ride the wave of adulatory mainstream coverage by boomer political reporters who are dying to prove that they’re color-blind by, well, injecting color into the 2008 presidential race. A prime example of this, by the way, can be found in the current issue of Newsweek.

The cover story of the Dec. 25 issue, titled “Is America Ready for Hillary or Obama?” deals with the issues of gender and race in American presidential politics. But writer Jonathan Alter inexplicably failed to include the results of a Newsweek poll, which I found via PR Newswire, showing Clinton kicking Obama’s ass 50 percent to 32 percent. But that’s not all. The survey of 1000 adults, age 18 and over, on Dec. 6 and 7 showed that in a match up of Clinton versus Sen. John McCain, those polled prefer Clinton 50 percent to McCain’s 43 percent. The same goes for Clinton versus former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (48 to 47). She stomps our own Mitt Romney 58 percent to 32 percent.

Obama doesn’t fare nearly as well. Those polled prefer McCain over Obama 45 percent to 43 percent and Giuliani over Obama 47 percent to 44 percent. The only candidate Obama can beat in this poll is, you guessed it, Romney: 55 percent to 25 percent.

You’d think Alter would have found this relevant to his story. But think again.

Unlike Obama, Clinton says that marriage should be a state’s rights issue. She recently softened her opposition to civil marriage rights for same-sex couples by saying that she would support a gay marriage bill in New York, should the state legislature pass one. That distinguishes her, by the way, from the third big foot in the Democratic presidential follies coming soon to New Hampshire hamlets — our way our own Sen. John Kerry, who believes that the Massachusetts constitution should be amended to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

So for Democrats in 08 the choice is clear: Clinton over Obama (and Kerry). But if Giuliani should win the GOP nomination, all bets are off. He supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry. And when his marriage finally disintegrated, where did he go? He moved in with his gay friends, of course. A loving couple, by the way, who are currently prohibited from marrying.

So if by some phenomenal act of fate Giuliani is the GOP nominee come November 08, gay voters and their friends will have a big reason to vote Republican.

Stay tuned.

My editor, Susan Ryan Vollmer of the South End News/Baywindows, contributed to this article.