09 May 2012

The plutocracy strikes back

So, Barack Obama's stance on gay marriage has "evolved" to mirroring Dick Cheney's, namely that while he personally approves of same sex marriage, he believes it should be left to the states as a policy matter. I could point out that Obama has "evolved" into Dick Cheney before, but I suppose this would be the first time this could be said in a somewhat positive manner.

It's a bit peculiar to see this being hailed by liberals as some huge leap forward. The federalist dodge is a favorite among politicians who want to send a message to their base while declining to take a firm stand on an issue. Saying "I personally support X, but believe it should be left up to the states" is a classic political punt, and it's usually used by Republicans. I am sure if Obama had said "I personally support a woman's right to choice, but I think it should be left up to the states" there would be liberal rioting in the streets. That's a standard libertarian line. Maybe the expectations of Obama's supporters are that low, or maybe there's nothing he can say that will cause them any reaction other than euphoria. Or maybe they're all so used to his standard waffling that any whiff of political courage looks like the real deal.

 If the last two months are any indication, it looks like the American political circus is headed toward another election season typified by the erstwhile social issues. The brief moment where Occupy Wall Street appeared as though it could shift the national conversation onto plutocratic rule and economic inequality has passed, and those activists have been shooed offstage (or, more accurately, pepper-sprayed and teargassed offstage) to be replaced by the old standbys of abortion and gay marriage, the only issues that truly matter to the electorate if you believe the press and activists from both parties.

The electorate doesn't really agree:

In a recent PEW poll, gay marriage polled eighteenth on a list of issues, with just 28 percent of voters saying that it is a “very important” issue. This trails obvious election setters like the economy (86 percent), jobs (84 percent), healthcare (74 percent) and other issues down the line like Iran (47 percent), gun control (47 percent) and even the GOP’s cause of the day, birth control (34 percent).

 So why do we spend so much time and energy on issues the public doesn't feel are that pressing? And how much are the highly-publicized fights over birth control and gay marriage "real" and how much is fabricated? For Republicans, of course, this has been fairly decided for awhile. The Republican funders throw social issues at the religious base to keep them energized and voting reliably. Why liberals play along has been given less attention, but it's basically the same reason. The people who make up the Democratic donor base are often out of sync with the Democratic voter base, in many more profound ways on domestic and foreign issues than the Republicans are with theirs. Social issues give them a rare opportunity to bridge the gap (or at least reach an agreeable peace.)

Indeed, Obama's gay marriage "revelation" is entirely a campaign posture. It's designed to cautiously put himself in front of the liberal outrage over the success of North Carolina's Amendment 1 and re-energize his base of under-30 liberals whom he depended on in 2008 but who have been slowly decompressing over the past 3 and a half years.

Certainly, there is a faction of the right-wing base whose anti-woman and anti-gay extremism is very sincerely felt. But one has to wonder why they are allowed to monopolize the political arena with fringe issues which the public either sees as settled or as irrelevant to their lives.* It's hard to imagine issues which the plutocracy could give less of a shit about than birth control and gay marriage. All of the political energy which is absorbed by these things is energy which will never be directed at them. The yawning reaction of both the mainstream press and, in large part, the alternative liberal press to the May 1st actions of Occupy Wall Street is a clear indication; the Class War is over, the Culture War is back on, baby!

*Before someone leaps through the monitor to give me a finger-wagging lecture about how "relevant" it is to gay couples that they have equal rights, I mean that most people simply don't care much one way or another. It's interesting that most of these anti-gay amendments come through on popular referendums, I suspect if states were to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative or judicial means, most people would just shrug their shoulders and go on about their business.