Back in October, during the catharsis after Virginia gay marriage legalization, I argued that “the political momentum for gay marriage has built so quickly because it has become a treacly feel-good issue for liberal politicians who want to deliver a win to their social-liberal base without actually challenging the mechanisms of power in this country … everybody outside of the religious right has come to support gay marriage, because it feels liberal, progressive, warm, comfortable, human, and uplifting, but it doesn’t cost money to anyone who has real political power.” I framed the argument in material (and probably also cynical) terms: gay marriage is part of a larger strategy to force the broader American public into a kind of D.I.Y. social welfare, in which the government ducks its social responsibilities in the name of “family.” Well, it turns out Barak Obama agrees with me, sort of.
During a recent interview with BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, Obama was asked about the fight for marriage equality. Obama gave credit to LGBT activists for fighting a good fight, and then he added, almost as an aside:
But part of it is also, frankly, that an issue like nondiscrimination for the LGBT community is a little bit easier than the issues of inner-city poverty, right? You not discriminating against a gay person may require you to undergo some change of mind, but it doesn’t require you to potentially — calling on the government to provide more support for impoverished children so that they’ve got day care that’s high quality.
He’s saying it in that gentle, tentative way that he has, and he’s not framing it as a question of government’s social obligations (god forbid!), but he is more or less describing the dynamic that I have been ranting about for years. It’s easier for liberals to engage in a feel-good hearts-and-minds strategies on behalf of the gays than it is for them to fight for the kind of honest-to-goodness redistribution of resources that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of the least privileged among us (and frankly, all the rest of us as well). Now let’s see if he follows that observation to its logical conclusion, which is, now that the gay marriage fight is essentially over, the left needs to return its attention to the questions of resources that can make a real difference in people’s lives.