the national circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: He’s Evolved!

U.S. President Barack Obama
Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

And so, Obama has finally finished evolving on same-sex marriage.
And about time! I, for one, never understood the point of saying you were “evolving” when many of the voters you were pandering to don’t even believe in evolution. 

Did Joe Biden push his boss to act by announcing on Meet the Press last Sunday that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage?
I doubt it. A veep has no such power over any president. Let’s give Obama real credit here. Slow and halting and borderline farcical as his “evolution” was, we have now seen an American president take a historic stand on gay civil rights while in office — and do so despite the opposition of many in the African-American community.

Yet North Carolina banned same-sex marriage and even legal recognition of civil unions yesterday in a landslide, becoming the 31st state to do so. Obama’s stand, however cheering to his base, could hurt him in an election year when he needs to win swing states like North Carolina.
That’s always been the rationale for Obama’s dawdling. Don’t rock the boat in North Carolina — or Florida or Virginia or Colorado — by speaking out on gay marriage until after November 6 has passed. The counter-argument I’d make is that Obama looked like a phony and a coward each day he fudged this issue, and that his taking a strong and principled stand will have a halo effect on his leadership in general, including among voters who are ambivalent about gay marriage or opposed to it. Just look at Andrew Cuomo, whose approval rating remains high upstate and among Republicans, not just among liberals in New York City and its suburbs.

It will be interesting to see if Romney now makes an issue of Obama’s conversion.
Just let him try. The real political issue for Romney as he tries to attract centrist voters in a general election is if he can avoid being tainted by the homophobes he pals around with. Last week, he let the religious right drive away his openly gay foreign-policy spokesman Richard Grenell before he even started the job. More embarrassing still, it wasn’t the once-powerful religious-right big guns, the Robertson-Falwell-Dobson types, who put Romney on the run, but Bryan Fischer, a crackpot bigot who hates Mormons as much as he does gays. Then again, Romney couldn’t stand up to Rush Limbaugh when he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” or, this week, to that boisterous supporter at an Ohio rally who called for Obama to be tried for treason. 

Maybe Romney cowers before the right for good reason. Senator Richard Lugar, a conservative by most objective political standards, was crushed last night in the Indiana GOP primary by a candidate who received millions of dollars from tea party groups. Perhaps reports of the tea party’s demise were premature?
The tea party faded in name only. It needn’t call itself the tea party anymore because it is now in essence the Republican party. Those within the GOP who cross it, like Lugar, will be purged for such mild offenses as voting for Sonia Sotomayor or joining George W. Bush, John McCain, and Romney in endorsing the Wall Street bailout. Lugar was regarded as a heretic on the right despite his opposition to Obamacare, the stimulus, and Dodd-Frank, not to mention his career-long opposition to abortion rights. 

But the guy who beat Lugar, the 60-year-old Richard Mourdock, seems like a sober Republican Establishment figure, not some young radical. He is, after all, Indiana’s two-term state treasurer.
He will be right at home with Rand Paul. Despite Indiana’s dependence on the auto industry for jobs, Mourdock not only opposed the Detroit bailout but sued the government to try to stop it. After the defeated Lugar accused him of having an “unrelenting partisan mindset,” Mourdock went on MSNBC to declare that “bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

Can a party that chased out Lugar really rally around Romney?
Guess it depends on how you define “rally.” Rick Santorum endorsed Romney this week — in the thirteenth paragraph of an e-mail to supporters released towards midnight. 

Returning to the auto bailout, what was up with Romney telling an Ohio interviewer that he will “take a lot of credit” for the industry’s comeback?
It’s rather remarkable that the author of the 2008 op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” would think he could get away with such nonsense. Or as a blogger at Motoramic, the Yahoo auto site, put it, “It’s too bad for Romney that Al Gore invented the Internet so we could keep track of what actually happened.” The Obama camp can only pray that Mitt’s ad libs will be just as risible in the debates.

Last week, the Obama campaign launched “The Life of Julia,” a web cartoon that compares the President’s policies toward women to Romney’s. Obama’s playing hard for the female vote, no?
As well he should, given the Romney record of vowing to reduce women’s access to contraception and preventative health care by ending the Title X program and funding for Planned Parenthood. But the Obama camp’s didactic comic strip suggested what Cathy might have looked like had it been conceived by a humorless committee of social planners in a Scandinavian government bureaucracy; it played into every right-wing caricature of Obama as the “socialist” avatar of a nanny state. That this thing saw the light of day suggests that the Obama campaign has management and quality-control issues that had better be addressed. And this was the second such indicator of the past couple of weeks, the other being the campaign’s inability to fill an Ohio State arena after boasting that an overflow crowd would turn up for the kickoff of the president’s reelection drive.

Mitt was endorsed this week by Sacha Baron Cohen, speaking in character to promote his new movie The Dictator. He said Romney “has the makings of a great dictator.”
Say this for great dictators: They know where they stand. Romney hasn’t met even that minimal requirement yet. 

Frank Rich: Barack Obama Has Evolved!