Obama’s DOMA Strategy “Deep and Cynical”?

Jim Burroway

February 25th, 2011

Jason Kuznicki at the Cato Institute wrote, “Jim Burroway hints that Obama’s strategy here is both deep and cynical.” If there is a hint of that in what I wrote, then that hint was the furthest thing from my mind. Given the particular circumstances that arose in the two cases that brought about this announcement (specifically that there is no legal precedent in this particular circuit of Federal Court as to which level of scrutiny is appropriate for DOMA challenges), I think the administration’s determination is highly principled and well-supported, or, in Kuznicki’s word, “deep” (although he may have meant that differently than I do).

It does not, however, mean that there are no potential political repercussions emanating from the announcement, and my pointing them out was not based on a suspicion of a “cynical” motive. Surely, Holder did dangle a political carrot in front of Boehner (and, more broadly, in front of social conservatives who would surely urge Boehner to grab it) by pointing out that Congress can decide to defend DOMA. And there’s no doubt that most Democrats would strategically, if quietly, welcome just that very move, which would then be taken as evidence that the GOP isn’t serious about focusing exclusively on the deficit. — which would be the very definition of cynicism. But that latter part isn’t evidence of cynicism behind the Administration’s legal decision itself. It’s simply an observation that there are rippling repercussions from the decision; some of them are political and some of the political reactions will also be cynical — as if anyone would be surprised by that. I don’t mind Kuznicki’s putting the cart before the horse; he sees things differently from me. I would just rather he hadn’t tried to put my words in the horse’s mouth.

Jason Kuznicki

February 25th, 2011

My apologies for having misrepresented you, then.

As a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, I found the timing of Obama’s decision very convenient — not for advancing same-sex marriage, but for throwing Republicans off-message. I do still see that as cynical, even if you don’t.

Timothy Kincaid

February 25th, 2011


While I tend to view the President’s actions through the lens of suspicion, in this case I think the timing is the result of real deadlines rather than political machinations. The DOJ is to have to have presented briefs arguing for rational basis and constitutionality next month.

Yes, he could have waited until the final day before announcing that he would not file such briefs, but then Republicans would have had a legitimate case that he was derelict in his duty.

Lindoro Almaviva

February 25th, 2011

well, I think the move can be both a timing issue and a cynical move. And I think it fits on both:

By bringing it now, he throws the Republicans into a hissy and rattles the base. He could have waited until after Congress dealt with the Budget, but given how the republicans are behaving in both houses, I can see how the DOJ decided not to wait until after March 4 to announce their findings and make their determinations.

While there is a deadline, it is not like the deadline was the end of next week; so i am sure there is a certain amount of political calculation in the timing.


February 25th, 2011

I see no upside for Obama, here. The majority of the country still opposes gay marriage. If Obama were truly “deeply cynical “, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all, because no announcement would’ve been made. I can’t believe anyone who supports marriage would be anything but thrilled right now.


February 26th, 2011

I think “calculated” might have been a better characterization. I don’t know that Obama is any more cynical than any other politician (which may be begging the question — there’s a deep well to draw from there), but “calculating” fits what I’ve seen of the man much better than “cynical.”

Obama is much more aware of, or perhaps just more comfortable with, the trends on social issues than the anti-gay lobby, and contra Ryan’s comment above, the “majority” opposing same-sex marriage has become unstable while it diminishes. Looking back over attitudes on this issue over the past five or six years, the shift is dramatic. (If you don’t want to trust the polls, look at election results: from 70% to 51 or 52% against is not a positive trend for those opposing gay civil rights, and those results came after scare campaigns that relied on reaching the lizard brain rather than appeals to reason.)

He’s also, I think, reading the courts accurately. Pro-gay decisions are stacking up, and that’s going to affect things down the line. Strategically, this move is very strong — he’s placated the left and handed the right an issue it can’t win on. And if it rattles the assault on the middle class and the poor underway in the Congress, so much the better — no one said he had to do anything for only one reason.

And one other thing just occurred to me: going into 2012, with, as seems likely now, DADT having been formally repealed and the world not having ended, this move will help to defang at least part of the right’s social agenda.

Yes, I do indeed think “calculated” is the right word.

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