Obama and Prop 8

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 12:10 AM EDT

OBAMA AND PROP 8....Several months ago Barack Obama came out against Proposition 8, an initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in California, but since then he hasn't exactly been very vocal about his opposition. Since African-Americans support Prop 8 by a wider margin than any other ethnic group, Andrew Sullivan thinks Obama should use his bully pulpit to help turn the tide:

If he does not stand up for gay couples now, why should we believe he will when he is in office? And if black Americans are the critical bloc that helps kill civil rights for gays, that will not help deepen Obama's governing coalition. It could tear it apart.

Memo to Obama: make an ad. Speak loudly. Defend equality. Defend it when it might actually lose you some votes. Show us you are not another Clinton.

The argument against following Andrew's advice is obvious and compelling: Obama looks like he has the election in the bag right now, so why take even a tiny chance of blowing it? It's easy for bloggers and other amateurs to sit on the sidelines and tell Obama to take risky, principled stands on whatever their pet issue happens to be, but bloggers and amateurs don't have to take the heat if it doesn't work out, do they?

In other words, I get it. But I agree with Andrew anyway. My biggest concern about Obama all along has been his almost preternatural caution, and while this has obviously served him well during the financial crisis of the past few weeks, it's hard not to wonder when, if ever, he's going to show a little more, um, audacity on selling a progressive agenda to the country. Right now, California progressives need some help on Prop 8, and he's supposed to be our champion. So when are we going to see some leadership on this?

Plenty of people disagree with me about this. Better to play it safe for now, get elected, and then let big congressional majorities work their magic. Good things will follow. But I'm not so sure. I've got a broader piece on this topic coming up in the November issue of the magazine, but my main point is easy to summarize: in the end, congressional majorities aren't enough. You need public opinion behind you too, and the only way to get that is by actively trying to mold public opinion. So far Obama hasn't really tried to do that, and that's troubling for the progressive movement. If he's unwilling to take a few minor risks now, how likely is it that he's going to be willing to take a few bigger risks if and when he's elected?

So throw us a bone, Barack. Take a small risk on behalf of a core progressive principle. Make an ad.

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