Allegory of the Cave, barack obama, biden, bill maher, bullying, City Upon a Hill, darkness, democrats, diplomacy, economy, email, example, fundraising, gay marriage, gay rights, joe biden, John Lauber, Lauber, light, Maher, Maurice Freehill, media, media coverage, mitt romney, move on, moveon.org, news, obama, Plato, politics, president obama, progress, republicans, respect, romney, same sex marriage, school, social media, society, The Washington Post, vice president biden, William Winthrop, youth
The last few days have been abuzz with stories related to homosexuality, or as Bill Maher would put it, “it’s been a big week in gay”. Since every pundit is putting his or her spin on the most recent news–and it is a pivotal moment–I’d like to offer my analysis. To sum things up: Vice President Biden said in a televised interview that he fully supported same sex marriage, the media went crazy because President Obama had not shared that stance publicly, 3 days (and way too much media dithering later), Obama echoed Biden’s stance. A lot of people were excited (and some people used the issue to bolster socially conservative bona fides), but as we all know, since even important stories have shelf lives in the nanoseconds, a Romney story eclipsed the Obama story. In high school, Romney apparently held down a boy with the help of his friends, and forcibly cut his hair. This would be a horrible thing to do no matter what the circumstances, but the story takes on another dimension: the boy had dyed his hair blond, was presumed to be gay, and came out later in life. Whether Mitt Romney engaged in a hate crime (according to legal definitions) against John Lauber or not, he did bully a fellow student and human being. Some of the media coverage and the response to this story has been almost as upsetting as the story itself. I’ll get to that.
Let’s begin with Joe Biden’s “gaffe”. Why is it a gaffe? Because he was honest and came out ahead of the president? Biden spoke his mind. He was not offensive. It’s not even like he threw a whole party or something. He answered an interview question honestly, didn’t dodge it like many other politicians would have (and will continue to do), and demonstrated the courage of his conviction.
If his statement “made Obama look bad”, the only person Obama or his staff can really blame is the president himself. Obama certainly could have come out fully and forcefully for same sex marriage sooner, especially if, as he claims, he had reached this conclusion before Biden’s public moment. Attaching the term “gaffe” to every phrase that comes out of Joe Biden’s mouth doesn’t work. If Biden pushed Obama–even inadvertently–good. Obama has been conciliatory, overly compromising, and too passive on a number of issues: climate change, the debt negotiations, supporting 10-1 spending cuts to tax increases in an effort to appease Republicans, passing another round of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, health care reform, banking reform, anyone?
It’s been said that Obama staffers are upset because Obama had a huge rollout planned. K, well, you snooze, you lose. A bigger issue, though: way to play politics with people’s lives. Oh, the administration was waiting for an opportune moment? Well, waiting until an election year at all is probably not the most opportune moment–unless they’re blatantly pandering.
Oh, well. Obama has a very strong record on LGBT rights including not supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, strengthening rights for domestic partners and protections for the LGBT community, spearheading the effort and corralling the necessary votes to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, and more. Obama declared his support for same sex marriage in an interview, and while lingering questions remain about political pressure and whether his language was “strong enough”, it was a monumental civil rights moment. The first sitting president in history used his bully pulpit to influence the country. All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite.
The story about Mitt Romney and John Lauber came to light around the same time. 5 witnesses testified to The Washington Post that they were deeply ashamed of the incident, regretted it, and directly fingered Romney as the ringleader. They claimed that Lauber screamed and cried as he was immobilized. In the words of one witness, he “was terrified” and “it was an assault”. Romney claims to not remember the incident and offered the same asshole not-apology apology that people offer when they are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions or when they think the accuser is just too sensitive, i.e., the one with the problem. He chuckled, claimed he played pranks and engaged in “youthful hijinks”, and that if he did offensive things, he’s sorry if people interpreted them that way. He also said this was 48 years ago, and let’s focus on the economy, pretty please, because as even Republican strategists have claimed, keeping the focus solely on the economy is the only way he has a shot at winning.
I received an email from moveon.org that aimed to capitalize on the Romney incident. The language used absolutely exploited John Lauber in order to raise money for Democrats. It shifted the focus from the bullying incident to making fun of Romney (because an eye for an eye is always the way to go), and it used the Lauber story as a draw. It glossed over why the situation was terrible, and instead pushed shameless partisan self-promotion. The email was entitled “Dark Incident”. This email was a dark incident. Way to be unprofessional. The email sensationalized events and then brought in irrelevant information. The organization does not need to do that. The story speaks for itself. Way to stay classy, Move On.
To say society is in flux would be trite. Society is always in flux. We should all take a page from Vice President Biden’s book and take personal responsibility, while diplomatically stating our personal opinions. Shooting each other down and out-nastying each other just turns people off. The last thing we need is more disillusionment with the only system we have to protect us and to promote our rights as citizens. It’s easier to sit in the dark of the allegorical cave, and throw stones at each other, playing it safe. In the immortal words of Maurice Freehill, “Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light?” And if politicians choose to invoke William Winthrop’s iconic “City Upon a Hill”, (which they are prone to do), then they should strive to live up to this ideal. We all should.