Mr. President, Meet Ex-Prime Minister Martin

(NOTE: I’m writing today from Greece and there are terrible internet connections here–among other difficulties.  So I’ve removed what went up as a badly truncated version and substituted this one.)

Unbelievable. President Obama is facing a Republican who cannot enthuse the conservatives of his party, so the President decides to enthuse them for him. Pressing for same-sex marriage is the same brilliant tactic that helped remove Canadian Liberal prime minister Paul Martin from office–a man who by many accounts had been a brilliant finance minister in the previous regime and ought to have reigned long as prime minister himself. Three elections later, Canada has a Conservative majority government, an emboldened left, and a Liberal party still gasping for life.

Of course, the Conservative majority in Canada didn’t come about entirely because of same-sex marriage. But too few pundits have recognized that this issue was indeed that rare bird in politics, a genuine wedge that drove independents and social moderates in every party into the Conservative camp for at least for one election, and then maybe for more. (The New Democratic Party helped, of course, by insisting on a pro-gay marriage vote from its caucus.)

Mr. Obama perhaps feels that his own party lacks fire given the ambiguous nature of his bail-out of big banks after 2008, his prolongation of foreign wars, and his chimera of a health-care plan. What to do? Start a holy war, and same-sex marriage is ready-to-hand.

But this strategy of “good versus evil” is a dangerous one, especially when the GOP has proved itself far more adept at deploying it. Mr. Obama has just thrown red meat to every Limbaugh, Coulter, and Beck out there who might have been tempted to sit on their hands. Meanwhile, he has confused and discouraged social moderates who would more easily have preferred him to the alternative.

What was the White House thinking? After the debacle over trying to make Roman Catholic institutions pay for contraception, did none of the senior staff say, “Hoo, boy, better not needlessly annoy large numbers of possible voters again”?

Mr. President, may I suggest you pick up the phone and call Mr. Martin. Ask him why he broke his word to Christian groups by refusing to place moderate positions—such as civil unions and registered domestic partnerships—on the table. Ask him whether he would like a “do-over” on that one, or whether he still thinks winning the battle for same-sex marriage was worth losing the war of governing the country for another decade. I mean, really: Is this the issue you want having anything at all to do with the outcome of an election?

Perhaps instead you might just invite your Secretary of State and her husband over for a nice dinner. Then you can ask them, as apparently you haven’t before, how to appeal to the middle on the matters that count the most so that you can accomplish worthy objectives such as, say, winning a second term and sorting out the very big problems remaining from your first one.

I hope, at least, that the Romney campaign sent you a very nice bottle of wine. May I recommend, sir, that you save it for election night.

19 Responses to “Mr. President, Meet Ex-Prime Minister Martin”

  1. Roger

    John:declartio o

    Just when I thought I could not possibly get more cynical on the state of US politics I awake to this nonsense. Obamas’ declaration of support for Gay Unions is unmatched in its posturing and vacuous in its content. In the USA the power to leglise such unions is a state rather that federal issue as start. Second, his claim that this move is unhinged from politics may have been missed by his marketting team who quickly followed up with a well crafted ad, that doubtless was being pulled together while the lightning fast evolution of the little leaders mind progressed since Joe Biden came to this unsurprising conclusion..
    Too bad for a once great nation. They deserve better.

  2. Spencer Capier

    I disagree with you here John, if I were cynical I would suggest Obama’s thrown red meat to the Becks and Limbaughs so moderates will see them as the hateful homophobes that they are (spell check just tried to go get me to type homophones…. funny).

    I think there was a tremor in the Evangelical world when Martin put his support to same sex marriage, but the election wasn’t swayed in any meaningful way by his stance. I do think, however that many evangelicals are recognizing that they live in a secular society and their definitions of marriage need not be the same as the broader population’s definitions. I’m quite happy for same sex marriages to have the same legal protections as my heterosexual marriage, and if the absurd fantasies of some on the right do come true and someone marries an ice cream sandwich, it matters not a whit to me and my Christian Marriage, at least not in any important theological or religious sense. I’d fight against a man-on-milk-product union for reasons of the rights of persons in society, but not because I was afraid my marriage would be diminished by it.

    • Steve Wilkinson

      No, though I think many evangelicals are being tricked into following that line of rhetoric. The problem is, what is marriage in the first place? While it is established by God, since the beginning, as Jesus reminded us (as one male and one female), it is also well established in the secular realm. And, its roots and implications run deeper than simply something people need to agree upon. Also, be careful not to confuse church and state here, as each might have valid reasons to approve or deny such relationships.

      First, marriage for the State isn’t without cost. All of us tax-payers support the benefits conferred for a purpose (not just a whim). While love is certainly involved, it isn’t the primary reason the State supports marriage. The State is banking on a return on investment, through societal stability and population growth. There is only one configuration which provides these factors optimally. Once you support and endorse the sub-optimal, you water down the ideal. And this isn’t counting the more direct negative factors, such as denying children (the right?) of a mother and father and the accompanying effects.

      Second, the State’s role is to prohibit, permit, or promote (H/T: Frank Turek). It is arguable that it was good for the State to get out of the business of policing the bedroom, as they once tried to do. In other words, homosexual practice is not prohibited by the State and is thus, permitted. But, what is being asked for now is promotion, not permission, which already exists.

      Third, I would argue that marriage is what it is, not something society can just define as it wishes. There is a natural-law aspect of marriage making same-sex ‘marriage’ an oxymoron (and heterosexual marriage redundant). It is kind of like a married-bachelor or square-circle. Call it domestic partnerships or whatever, but marriage it is not, as marriage is a particular thing.

      Fourth, it isn’t that I think MY marriage will be diminished, but marriage as an institution will be. Giving such arrangements legal status makes them equal in the eyes of many, especially as society becomes more secular. In fact, that is probably why the concept is less opposed, as people are buying into the idea that marriage is just an agreement between two entities (and, then, why two and not five or a dozen?), rather than something more specific. No-fault divorce already has taken a huge toll on marriage as people don’t consider it as permanent or weighty. These kinds of moves DO have effects!

      re: “someone marries an ice cream sandwich, it matters not a whit to me” – Well, actually I think it does if you think it through. This would mean that this man or woman / ice-cream sandwich ‘couple’ would get paid benefits by you (so there is a $ cost to you). Also, research shows 😉 that an ice-cream sandwich isn’t nearly as effective a parent (this ‘couple’ would be able to adopt!) as a man or woman, so children of this kind of ‘couple’ will probably not be as good of citizens, cost us more money in a number of ways, or worse. And, while you think it sounds absurd, I actually do love ice-cream sandwiches, so why should I be denied my right to marry what I love? (And, we certainly might be able to think of a whole host of other examples that are just a tad bit less absurd that this logic works perfectly well in justifying.)

      • Spencer Capier

        Hey Steve, thanks for the thoughtful rebuttal. While I think your points are reasonable and well expressed I disagree with a couple of assumptions. I agree that love was not the primary reason the State supported marriage, I would argue that that is shifting in the modern West. Now it is seen as a legal contract between adults, full stop. While I agree with you also that the optimal stable support for raising happy healthy children is a functional heterosexual marriage, I know several same sex couples who do a darn sight better job of raising their kids than some heterosexual couples. If the issue is denying a child the right to a father and a mother we have lost that battle a long time ago due to poverty and racism, not the dilution of marriage. At any rate recent studies have pretty clearly shown that children of same sex marriages do not suffer from their parent’s arrangements, and certainly do much better than single parent families.

        I also agree with you that natural law could and should play a role in defining Christian marriage, but it won’t wash in the secular state. Marriage is whatever the state wants it to be, and it has been a very different thing in the past, to the detriment of women.

        The crux of the issue for me is that the ‘institution of marriage’ is a moving target culturally. To acknowledge this fact is to force Christians to define their own understanding of marriage. Christians in California who worked to ban Gay Marriage recently would have better served society as a whole if they’d worked to ban divorce instead. That would increase the stability of the family platform. Evangelicals are statistically more likely to get divorced, have pre marital sex and get abortions. (Douthat)

        Lastly, the ice cream sandwich union would probably cost me money as a tax payer, but heaven knows there’s lots of things I don’t like paying for as a tax payer. There are equally absurd things I already shell out for.

        • Steve Wilkinson

          Spencer,

          I agree with much of your analysis of the situation, but you seem to just be throwing your hands up in the air. You state that the definition of marriage is shifting in the West, buy why accept that? It shouldn’t be something we define. It seems you keep stating the exceptions from the normal and optimal in order to justify PROMOTING (remember, not just ALLOWING) the deviation and sub-optimal. I can imagine all sorts of arrangements that might be better for parenting than the worst heterosexual couples, but I’m not going to promote them. I’m going to promote the natural optimal situation, then assist when brokenness ensues (as it certainly will in a fallen world).

          re: “recent studies have pretty clearly shown that children of same sex marriages do not suffer from their parent’s arrangements, and certainly do much better than single parent families.”

          I haven’t personally done the research, but my understanding (from those who have) is that what those studies show is that when you are quite selective, with a small sample size, in a very short-term outcome, with specific metrics, that the kids at least appear to be OK. Comparing things to single parent families doesn’t really say much. I’d hope we’re not promoting that either! (Should the State expand marriage to include singles too?)

          re: “Marriage is whatever the state wants it to be”

          I agree to some extent, in that the State (especially a secular one) isn’t going to pay a lot of attention to what the various religions have to say. However, the State should want to promote a healthy society with its laws and benefits. How can the state justify redefining marriage in this way? And, then, how can it prevent expanding it in other ways such as polygamy, polyamory, intergenerational love, incest, etc.). If the issue is rights (which it isn’t, as everyone currently has the exact same rights with respect to marriage), then what is different with these other categories who are then being denied the ‘right’ to marry who they love? Remember, especially when the State is promoting something, it costs money and effort… which needs justification, not just catering to anyone who presses to get their way.

          re: “would have better served society as a whole if they’d worked to ban divorce instead”

          I don’t think most of the people (who are thinking about it) opposed to same-sex-‘marriage’ would disagree with you on that point. No-fault divorce has certainly been more destructive to marriage and society as far as I can see. The difference is more that we’re now defending marriage from a present intense attack from some very politically powerful groups. Christians didn’t really bring this issue up. This is a response. Should we ALSO be doing what we can to oppose divorce and change laws there? Yes, I’d say so, but not to the detriment of these efforts. This same-sex movement is currently more pressing, so it is going to get the attention. That said, I’d be the first to acknowledge that too many today aren’t taking divorce seriously and not doing enough, even within the church.

          re: “Evangelicals are statistically more likely to get divorced, have pre marital sex and get abortions.”

          Than who? Also, who are we defining as ‘Evangelicals’? The studies I’ve seen indicate that if we use some reasonable criteria to determine this group, the opposite is true. (I’m pretty sure Dr. Stackhouse has even written on that.)

          re: “There are equally absurd things I already shell out for.”

          Even if that point is granted… so pile another one on? Even if the results weren’t destructive to society, I’d not want to take that position.

          • John Stackhouse

            I’ll chime in to this good conversation just to say that Steve is right: if one defines “evangelical” in any way familiar to, say, John Wesley or Billy Graham, divorce is lower. Gallup and especially Barna have done us a grave disservice in their widely repeated errors about evangelicals vis-à-vis the population of North America at large.

            See my article, “What Scandal? Whose Conscience” in Books and Culture here: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/julaug/12.20.html

            • Spencer Capier

              I would say that your points are all reasonable (again!). I’m glad to hear there is criticism of the stats on teen pregnancy and divorce among evangelicals. If there are problems with them, there needs to be more counter arguments in the public sphere, as they are pretty pervasive; even Douthat leans on them in his new book, and he’s a conservative himself.

              I will quibble with the idea of ‘promote’ instead of ‘tolerate.’ I don’t think government would promote same sex marriage by legalizing it, but it would tolerate it, which is different. If no fault divorce laws promoted divorce then we could say same-sex marriage laws did the same. If we agree that the ease of divorce has done more to undermine marriage in society then Christians should put their focus there. We don’t because it is far easier to ‘otherize’ gays and lesbians rather than members of our congregations.

      • Josue

        I tend to think marriage between only a man and a woman is good for a society and worth defending on economic grounds, as you pointed out. What we forget though is that those are grounded still deeper in biology. It is not merely a state or religious matter.

        Somewhere along the line, man and woman hooked up, so to speak, and a child was born and this was shown to be a good thing (for economic reasons, among others) and our bodies responded by rewarding us when we hooked up, with a flood of endorphins, deep emotional bonds, and a drive, to tell us that what we did was Good. This phenomenon, this organic whole, became so powerful and central to our lives as humans that it became recognized on a social level, respected and celebrated and so forth in the institution of ‘marriage.’

        Over time however we often wanted to experience those good feelings regardless if we were hoping to reproduce or not. Smart humans we are, we found various ways to feel those feelings, to satisfy the drive, to trigger that hard-wired response independently of reproduction, to such a degree that today those various means themselves have been lifted up by society into their own social institutions; to such a degree they now seek to re-define the traditional conception of marriage.

        But that is problematic, because marriage is based on a natural phenomenon (reproduction) which is prior to the feelings of love and attraction And so, when we redefine marriage, we are inevitably, in some way, claiming to redefine nature. The former is contingent upon the latter. Redefining marriage is throwing the baby out with the bath water. The baby is marriage itself; the water, the tradition of man and female-only marriage. For the most part I don’t care what anybody does in their personal life, but marriage is absolutely worth defending on the aforementioned lines alone, none of which require interpretations of law or religion.

  3. Steve Wilkinson

    Is it his full support of same-sex ‘marriage’ that is surprising? Or more the timing of this move? Obama vowed to GLBT groups back when he was still a Democratic candidate, his complete solidarity with their agenda and efforts. The idea we keep hearing in the media that he has been wavering on it or ‘evolving’ is just a bunch of baloney. It is just marketing Obama as being thoughtful on the topic. One thing Obama isn’t is wavering or evolving. He has a very clear agenda, and to his credit of sticking to his ideals, is going to stop at nothing to push them (as bad as many of them are, IMO).

    As to, ‘why now?’, as VP Biden even indicated… they basically think America has finally watched enough Will & Grace. Also, the loss in North Carolina needed a strong counter reaction and Obama stepped up to the plate.

    My guess is that they (the Obama administration) recognize they are in re-election trouble, so at this point, it is worth taking the risk. If they can muster the full power of the GLBT lobby and rhetoric in an attempt to shame enough people into voting for Obama… it might just work. While this runs counter to the actual voting record of Americans on this issue over the last decade, I’m not so sure most Americans aren’t starting to fall for the propaganda being fed to them 24/7 in every way imaginable. Things are changing rapidly. In other words, if the issue were rerun on the ballots of states that previously voted to keep the historic and natural definition of marriage intact, I wouldn’t count on them turning out like North Carolina any longer.

    Obama also ran on this whole ‘change’ platform in the previous election. Now that the younger crowd that bought into that is (hopefully) discouraged by the lack of change they were hoping for and a bunch of other change that they weren’t, he needs a new concept to run on. This idea of being sympathetic to those the evil-GOP is trying to take ‘rights’ away from probably fits the bill. The GLBT agenda is the perfect fit, as from what I’ve seen in the polling, the younger generations are most sympathetic. He’s trying to gain that base back and is hoping they forget the promise of last election if this new one is noisy enough on a different issue.

    Also, they won’t place civil unions or domestic partnerships on the table because that isn’t the goal of the GLBT movement. It wouldn’t pacify them. The GLBT movement will settle for nothing short of full respect (even if it has to be forced). To gain their support, Obama needs to be all-in. This was the time if Obama wanted to play this card.

    I hope you’re correct that this was an unwise move… but I’m actually not so sure.

  4. Dan

    I think it was the only thing Obama could say after his first four years to try and convince people that he is, in fact, NOT a Republican. Sure, Obama expanded American wars around the world, sure Obama never closed Guantanamo and actually helped further develop another giant torture centre in Bagram, sure Obama made it legal for Americans to execute Americans without a trial or detain people indefinitely without any proof being made public or any trial being held, sure Obama has received more money from Wall St. than any other President and has given more money back to Wall St. than any other President, sure Obama has been harder on Whistle blowers than Bush 1 and 2 ever were, sure Obama has aided the militarization of the police and the criminalization of dissent, sure Obama has betrayed the students and had democratically elected municipal officials replaced with designated financial officers, sure he supported an illegal coup in Honduras, bombed civilians in Libya, provided other dictators with the arms they needed to kill their own people… BUT LOOK OBAMA SUPPORTS GAY MARRIAGE! Forget about everything else, go back to thinking about Republicans and Democrats in the way you thought about them in the ’90s and vote for the good guys, the Democrats, who care about people and not money. That is the script Obama wants people to believe in — change you can believe in — and that is the script that should have no credibility at all with anybody (including the poor souls who didn’t look into his background and bought the story the first time around).

    • Josue

      Hear, Hear! Good work Dan. Yes I think for those of us who were young in the 90s it might be easier for us to detect how, coming into the 90s, the democrats were (relatively) the good guys and republicans were the bloated establishment, the good old boys club, the rich jackasses. But that was 20 years ago, and liberalism today doesnt think it has become the same bloated establishment. Everything is upside down from the way it was in the early 90s.

      Reinhold Niebuhr’s book Moral Man, Immoral Society suggests that man the individual has moral capacities but, when he joins others and forms bigger and bigger groups his morality is necessarily jeopardized more and more as the group gets bigger. I think liberals – in today’s sense of the word – are particularly vulnerable to this because by 20th and 21st century definition they dont want a limited government, they want a bigger, more powerful one.

      Any republican who expands the government and shoves fundamentalist Christianity or any other belief system (including secular utopianism) down peoples throats is basically a socialist; not a republican, but a RINO (Republican in Name Only). A true republican – meaning, somebody who doesnt pander to social groups but instead focuses on issues affecting us all like the economy, our borders, our food supply – is something the US has been missing for some time now. That ideology is the one the US is ultimately based upon, economically and culturally, and has achieved success by.

      As for Obama, the man is clearly a liar, a power-grabbing politician of the highest order in ways that would make Dick Cheney blush. He does not care about anybody he panders to. We’ve already seen this because of his hypocrisy and how poorly he’s followed up with his promises as you mentioned. His motives are to divide and conquer and rebuild society in his image. And therefore “celebrating diversity” cannot be on his real agenda. Hopefully, gays, blacks, women, academians, environmentalists and others are listening.

      • Dan

        Just for the record, what I wrote was not intended to be seen as an endorsement of the Republican party. The point is this: for the foreseeable future, and barring any sort of miraculous intervention, every American President will be worse than the ones who came before, regardless of which party they represent. Obama was worse than Bush II. Bush II was worse than Clinton. Anybody who comes after Obama — Democrat or Republican, will be worse than Obama.

        • Josue

          Yes I understood that. All the best and God be with us.

        • Steve Wilkinson

          “… every American President will be worse than the ones who came before, regardless of which party they represent. ”

          That may or may not be the case, but to paraphrase something Dr. James White said the other day, it is probably more a matter of which one we think is going to at least try to apply the brake a bit rather than stepping on the accelerator.

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