US presidential campaign followers got a good laugh when a proxy for Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of being dishonest and inconsistent with the American public about his views on gay marriage.
The free-talking Vice-President Joe Biden averted a period of pre-convention campaign boredom in improving economic times by blurting out that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage on Meet the Press on Sunday. Since that statement, the White House and the Obama 2012 campaign has been in overdrive correcting the obvious interpretation that the administration does or will support gay marriage. It doesn’t officially. Except it does in any meaningful analysis of its actions that include ending all court action in defence of the Defence of Marriage Act and speaking out against state gay marriage bans.
Those watching the White House press briefing yesterday would think there was nothing else happening in America, as the President’s spokesman Jay Carney deflected more than an hour and a half of questions on the issue.
Biden wasn’t alone, with cabinet colleague Education Secretary Arne Duncan — a noted friend of Julia Gillard — declaring his unqualified support for same-s-x marriage on morning television. Commentators now suggest this was a deliberate strategy to play both sides of the issue.
Republicans pounced, with RNC chair Reince Priebus telling MSNBC this morning that Romney and Obama had the same stance, but only Romney had been consistent and honest with the American public from the start. In fact, Romney has signed a pledge to ban gay marriage in the federal constitution, which Obama opposed.
Romney may have all but sewn up the Republican US presidential nomination, but he is still struggling to win over Christian conservatives in the party after a bruising kerfuffle of his own over a gay staffer.
Nor are they flocking to Ron Paul, the only other “serious” candidate left in the GOP race. The libertarian who was in the Tea Party movement before it was cool, picked up his second largest cache of delegates at the Maine and Nevada conventions on the weekend, but still trails Romney more than 10 to one.
The social conservatives may not have won their ideal presidential nominee, but they’re not done moulding the one they got. A tweet from Bryan Fischer, radio host and American Family Association director, was enough to see the first notable personnel shift in the Romney campaign:
“Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.”
Fischer was referring Romney’s foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell. Not long with the campaign, he made the mistake of being noticed by the gay press for being gay. His second mistake was being well-liked by Republican gays and members of the retrospectively-not-conservative-enough Bush administration, no small feat in circles that have become known for bitter infighting. Grenell had earned his foreign policy and conservative credentials as the former spokesman to Bush’s UN ambassador John Bolton. He had a colourful past, but not without successes. He even managed to keep any lingering desire for equal rights out of the picture.
No one in the Romney camp came to Grenell’s defence and he was taken off spokesman duties. Last week he resigned, stating “my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign”.
Some of the US media described the exit as being bullied or hounded out, while Andrew Sullivan took issue with Grenell being “muzzled” by the campaign. But such criticism was nothing compared to the setback Romney would face if Christian conservatives chose not to donate or volunteer for his campaign against Obama.
Fischer took to his blog on Friday to complain the Romney camp was trying to have it both ways, throwing “natural marriage” conservatives under the bus after doing the same to his spokesman. “You can get whiplash trying to stay up with this guy,” he wrote. Perhaps it’s a good thing candidates travel with their own ambulance.
Republicans are used to their gays staying closeted and being the most anti-gay voice in the room. This generation of conservative gays and lesbians who acknowledge their desire for marriage equality and live openly in the big tent of right-wing politics have the family values crowd in a panic. Social issues were pushed down the priority list in favour of the Tea Party movement during the 2010 mid-term elections and former Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman turned into a marriage equality activist. Suddenly, a new requirement of opposing gay marriage became a litmus test for CPAC, the most influential conference in the conservative movement.
Nor is it quite safe to be an openly gay official in the Democratic party. The same family values groups demonised Kevin Jennings, an Obama administration official appointed to tackle bullying in schools, who authored several books for gay and lesbian teachers. The unrelenting campaign linked homos-xuality to p-edophilia and claimed he protected child s-xual abusers. The allegations eventually proved false, but Jennings resigned anyway seeking the quieter life in the not-for-profit sector.
*Harley Dennett has recently returned from Washington DC where he covered US politics