Consider President Obama's subsequent clarification after recently signaling his support for same-sex marriage. He tried to align his change of view with Martin Luther King's "dream" - equality for all Americans. But then, the next day, he emphasized that he wasn't going to spend much time talking about it since it's the debate about the economy by which the election will be won or lost. Apparently, he presumes that this other declaration has few consequences for the national economy. I guess that means he prefers that discussion of the economic impact, short term and long-term, from any change to the legal definition of marriage, come later, after the law of the land ratifies this "logical conclusion of what America is supposed to be". This is no exaggeration. These are the terms he used as reported on PBS.
But the truth is it was a logical conclusion of what America is supposed to be. It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren't like us? Does that make us stronger? I believe it does.
Amazing. Does he understand what he is saying? On the one hand, President Obama signals his personal commitment to a fundamental change in the way the polity relates to the non-state institutions of marriage and family; on the other hand, he erects a cordon sanitaire around his public commitment as a US President, so that he can't, or now won't, engage in a comprehensive explanation of how presidential state-crafting should defend such a legal and political change. He does not usually present as someone afraid of losing an argument. But at least Professor Richard Dawkins and Reverend Jerry Falwell happily engage in public debate about their dogmatic faiths, their unwavering commitments notwithstanding. But in this instance, the American President, with a wave to the "American Dream", effectively closes down the debate he started by privatizing his own view, even while attempting to valorize his support without any engaged political argument whatsoever! It comes down to what we have encountered continually for decades - same-sex marriage is a demand for the enactment of a legal fiction based on a privatized political sentiment which has no need for engaged, deliberative argument.
Apparently, that's the end of the argument. It was a logical conclusion, he said. The US dream of openness to ethnic differences leads logically to a change to the legal definition of marriage, although there's no evident willingness to spend any time discussing why that definition took the form it has, nor even to explain why polygamous immigrants were not "given a shot". That was not very American dream-like! But oh, no political debate thanks we're Americans, at least not today. Maybe next year. The American way of life has to move on. The campaign is about the economy! Nothing more will be said because nothing more needs to be said.
You would think that with all the media focused upon this declaration, the Republican challenger would immediately tell his fellow citizens that, unlike the President, he believes in genuine political debate, particularly because marriage is integral to political economy, as well as integral to the economy of households. But the Republican candidate shows no sign of promoting a concerted and elaborated debate on this issue. Mr Romney wimped off. He admitted to being a naysayer as far gay marriage is concerned but added, seeming to ensure that he's not typecast too stringently, that he's not opposed to adoption being opened up to homosexual couples. This doesn't extend the debate - it simply signals an unwillingness to develop a coherent argument, a willingness to hide behind a confused understanding. The question of two women with their children teaming up in one household is an altogether different kind of entity to two men getting together in order to start a family.
But for the two presidential candidates it seems that it is far too risky to inject such an empirical distinction into the American political melting pot. Differentiations of that sort, along with other "risky" observations will, however, have to be made, sooner or later, and the best venue for that is opened up mature political debate without the persistent wimping over "body politics" of key players from all sides. Otherwise, it is likely that legislation will simply deepen the problems that the sentimentalists refuse to acknowledge.
So, is it now a political contest that will decide who is better at ducking for cover? In some senses it certainly is. This is an election about who has the better strategy to maintain, and not lose, voter approval. That is what it comes down to. It is all about which candidate can make a more powerful appeal to public sentiment while preventing debate about issues that could lose votes.
Of course, there are always complex issues to confront in political life. And political leadership should indeed be involved in encouraging complex debate about complex political issues, also about the complex and seemingly intractable matters of "body politics". They are political because they are intimately entwined with irreducible human responsibilities. And in our public debate we cannot both promote "deliberative democracy" and avoid comprehensive political discussion about our own much-vaunted political opinions at one and the same time. But at this point, that is precisely what the US 2012 Presidential election seems to be doing.
The two presidential candidates are taking a political path that avoids comprehensive political debate. Whether they stay on this path throughout the campaign remains to be seen. But on the issue of same-sex marriage they are approaching their campaigns with what seems to be a fear that it is just too risky to deal politically with the political views of fellow-citizens with whom they disagree. Nevertheless, they continue to send "signals" in order to gain or retain voter support.
It reminds me of Mr Timorous and Mr Distrust in Bunyan's epic. Take your pick as to which candidate is represented by each of Pilgrim's two fearful interlocutors.
, a project of Bruce Wearne, aims to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution, heeding the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all the earth's political regimes, who calls all people everywhere to humbly and patiently seek justice for all their neighbours.
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