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May 10, 2012

Having Done it to Do it: Obama’s Gay Marriage Endorsement

I really appreciate Digby’s post on what could have been a historic day yesterday. Her point-of-focus was Lyndon Johnson and how he threw himself, body and soul, not just behind civil rights but behind the Civil Rights Act.

If there is anything we know about Obama from the past four years, it’s that he’s an incrementalist. If he believes in going forward, it’s not as if he’s the first man through the door. It’s not that he hasn’t been bold at times, but you could say he’s “cautiously bold,” meaning that any risk has been so calculated there’s really not that much risk left or that far to fall.

So, is it a significant development that the President of the United States has professed his support for gay marriage? Of course it is. Is it also a narrow development, however, and a frustrating one to many that the decision was a personal (and surely, a strategic) one that pretty much leaves intact the status quo? Yes, that too.

Because words also form pictures, let’s take a second to consider Obama’s exact words on the matter:

I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

That’s two “I’s,” two “me’s” and a “personally” (with the word “just” meaning anything but). Amidst the self-consciousness, it’s not like Obama is flatly stating his support for gay marriage so much as he’s sharing how he’s chosen to decide to go ahead and think that way. Because it was that important.

Closing my eyes, I could imagine yesterday’s White House photo-of-the-day capturing words and a scene as deeply touching as Obama’s speech in Tucson to an arena full of people after Gabrielle Giffords was shot. I could imagine words and a scene as stirring, and as informed by history and justice and misunderstand, and as electrifying and instructive as Obama’s address on race back in March ‘08. Instead, however, in posting a photo taken by ace WH photographer Pete Souza of Obama sharing his gay marriage sentiments with ABC host Robin Roberts, the emphasis and the focus here is not on legislation or appealing to our better selves or rallying around civil rights as much as it’s about having been on camera having shared his mind.

(photo: Pete Souza caption: President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

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