Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Evolution of a news-cycle narrative


By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON—This past week's news cycle has produced two narratives:

One, Barack Obama is an evolutionary, 21st-century hero who supports equality for all. Two, Mitt Romney is a gay-bashing bully mired in the previous century, who also supports a war on women and, oh yeah, hates dogs.

Let's parse, shall we?

Obama's Big Announcement that he supports gay marriage came about for the following reasons: (a) He had no choice after Vice President Joe Biden said on "Meet the Press" that he was fine with same-sex marriage; (b) one in six of Obama's campaign bundlers, those who raise big bucks, is openly gay; (c) Obama risks nothing except the votes of those who wouldn't have voted for him anyway.

And last, but certainly not least, because supporting equal treatment of all Americans under all legal contracts, including marriage with all its attendant rights and responsibilities, is the right thing to do. In this respect, Obama may have evolved in his thinking, as millions of other Americans have, including yours truly. Indeed, polls show that the country is about evenly divided on the question, with younger Americans overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage. In another generation, this conversation likely will be irrelevant.

Meanwhile. Can we stop hyperventilating long enough to not be ridiculous?

Yes, Obama's statement carries symbolic weight but it changes nothing. In fact, by also saying he thinks the issue should remain with the states, he is both taking a conservative, states' rights position and passing the constitutional buck. As Joe Scarborough pointed out, if the president believes that equal marriage rights are constitutionally protected, then he has a duty to fight for those rights rather than hand off the issue to the states. Gays and lesbians won't fare well on that frontier given that 30 states already have passed prohibitive amendments to their state constitutions.

Thus, Obama's announcement, while political and pragmatic, was fundamentally meaningless. You'd never know it by the media's response, of course. As Tim Stanley wrote in Britain's The Telegraph, everything the first African-American president says or does is breathtakingly historic:

"The Prez could go seal-clubbing and much of the media would see it as a new epoch for winter sports. 'Barack Obama Becomes the First President to Kill Six Seals in Under One Minute,' The New York Times would proudly report, while Twitter would be all abuzz with how hot he looks in snow shoes."

Not so much poor Mitt. While Obama was being feted at a $40,000-a-plate din-din at George Clooney's house, Romney was being roasted for a high school bullying "prank" nearly 50 years ago. A prank that made the top half of The Washington Post's front page Friday—and the details of which are in much dispute, especially from the family of the alleged victim, who, alas, isn't alive to defend his version of events.

Briefly, as told by a handful of boarding-school classmates, Romney led a group of boys who tackled and held down John Lauber and cut his longish, blond hair. Romney allegedly didn't like Lauber's look and decided to fix it. The subtext is that Lauber may have been gay and that, therefore, Romney is a not-so-closeted gay hater.

For those to the premises more recently arrived, a quick primer on 1965, when this occurred. Nobody knew who was or wasn't "gay," a word that wasn't yet in popular circulation as a noun and generally meant "merry." Homosexuality wasn't on most high school kids' radar, period. If anything, Romney may not have liked Lauber's "hippie" locks, which is the more likely case given the era.

Whatever. Lauber obviously was a nonconformist in an environment that valued conformity, and Romney and his crew were indeed bullies. They shouldn't have done it, but boarding schools until recently were not widely known as incubators of sensitivity. Today, of course, prep schools feature weekly diversity seminars and offer staff psychiatrists for the noncompliant.

But five decades later, this is a campaign issue in a presidential election? Lauber's family doesn't think it should be—and they may be the only people who count in this particular debate.

The real story, meanwhile, is the one that keeps getting pushed aside, which is that the country is going bankrupt and that 32 percent of young people (18-29) are underemployed. But as long as we're talking about things like gay marriage and contraception—all forced to the fore by Democrats, by the way—Americans can avert their gaze from the evolving economic collapse, which will be anything but gay.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com. (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.




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