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Anyone but me notice the death of the religious right last week? Apparently, the religious right had started feeling poorly after Mitt Romney took Ohio on Super Tuesday and had been declining steadily since Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum quit the Presidential race. But the death announcement didn’t come until last Thursday, when Barack Obama was chatting with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America and said his position on gay marriage had evolved and he now thought that same-sex couples ought to be able to get married. (Do you think he chose the word “evolved” on purpose? But I digress.)
Obama proposed no legislation or action. He simply said this is where he is personally. But what Obama’s statement says to me is that the religious right as a political force is dead for the time being. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the social conservatives didn’t just lose the primary battle; they completely lost the election war. The upcoming presidential election is going to be about the economy, and even more than that, it’s going to be about the issue of whether or not the US government can and should be managed like a business. The defining issues are not going to be social questions, but whether or not the auto companies should have been bailed out, what the government’s role in health insurance should be, how responsible the President is for the unemployment rate and similar economic concerns. “Issue” voters are irrelevant.
According to a Gallup Poll cited in this week’s issue of The Economist, 50% of the American population supports same-sex marriage. My hunch is Obama and his advisers looked at those numbers, added in another 25% or so of the population that is undecided and said, “The other 25% isn’t going to vote for us anyway, so the smart thing to do is to bolster our base instead of pandering to conservatives.”
Four years ago Obama waffled on gay marriage. Not so now. What’s changed? I guess I’m too skeptical to believe his thinking really has evolved much. I simply believe he doesn’t see the religious right as a group that can harm him.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is a very live conservative movement in our country. They may unseat the President. But if they do, it will be because of three things: 1) lingering anger over the government bailouts, 2) what happens the next few months with the unemployment numbers and 3) how the stock market performs between now and the election (which may have a lot more to do with Europe’s economic struggles than ours). These things will be pivotal, not what Obama said about gay marriage last week. To quote the slogan from another Presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
A USA Today headline on Friday stated “Obama’s gay marriage announcement followed by flood of campaign donations. (A friend read that headline and sarcastically said, “Really? I didn’t even know he was gay. Now he’s married?” Again I digress, but I will note that Jay Leno has made a nice living off of the headline writers in this country. I think my all-time favorite is “Court to try shooting defendant.”) The USA Today missed the real story, though. And no, that story isn’t how many donations the Romney campaign received after Obama’s statement. The real story they should have run is the obituary of the religious right. When a sitting President can defy them, they’ve lost their influence.