Anne Penketh: Picking a fight and sparking the base

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President Barack Obama. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama. Photo / AP

You don't bounce the President of the United States, particularly a lawyer like Barack Obama, into adopting a position only months from a presidential election.

So the White House whisperers, who claim that Vice-President Joe Biden committed a "gaffe" on Monday by voicing support for gay marriage in order to force Obama's hand, have to be wrong.

It looks more like a carefully choreographed move by Biden. He was the one who laid the groundwork for the announcement by Obama on ABC News that his "evolving" position had now settled on a full-throated support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to wed.

The result has been three days of media headlines, and no doubt more to come. That's manna for an election campaign, with the candidate dominating the headlines and sucking the oxygen from the opposing camp.

It's undoubtedly a political gamble, with Obama appearing on TV the day after North Carolina voted to ban gay marriage by adopting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

(Obama won the state in 2008).

But it's a calculated risk: first, Obama must have decided that he can re-energise the Democratic Party base with an unambiguous endorsement of gay marriage. (Lady Gaga has already congratulated him on Twitter).

But secondly, and more cynically, there are probably private polls showing there are votes to be had from the gay community and independent voters by adopting such a position. "The gay vote is bigger than Wall Street," as a commentator on PBS television put it.

Mitt Romney, the future Republican nominee, is on the opposite side of the argument, although like Obama the position of the former Massachusetts Governor has "evolved".

His views (and his cravenness) were exposed last week when his pick as foreign policy aide, the openly gay Ric Grenell, resigned abruptly under pressure from the religious right, despite his impeccable professional credentials as a conservative spokesman. That was a Romney gaffe.

But Obama clearly felt confident enough to take on the Republicans more aggressively by picking a fight on the slippery terrain of gay marriage.

This is an excruciatingly divided country. Republican Senator Dick Lugar, who lost a primary on Wednesday after representing Indiana for 35 years, bemoaned the state of politics in America in his concession speech in which he condemned the "unrelenting partisan mindset" of his Tea Party-backed challenger, Richard Mourdock.

Obama just decided to join the fray. This is the real start of the election campaign.

- NZ Herald

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