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A Failure of Leadership

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Kevin Drum suggests that “Obama has a notable streak of temperamental caution that serves him well, but it could also betray him. Maybe he could have turned the tide against Proposition 8 in California if he’d been willing to take a risk on its behalf.” In this case, it’s a fair knock.

I can understand the difficulty of the problem. Injecting new issues into a campaign is a loser’s strategy; when the most salient issues favor you, you don’t rock the boat. Obama’s primary and general election campaigns were superbly disciplined and stayed consistently on message, and I can understand wanting to avoid the same-sex marriage issue.

But, ultimately, in the last week or two of the campaign it was overwhelmingly clear that Obama was going to win, it was clear that Prop 8 was going to be close, and it was also clear that same-sex marriage was going to be an extremely marginal issue in the federal election. Obama had already come out against it; if the McCain campaign was planning to exploit it they would have already done so. Making a statement (however cautious) against Prop 8 in the last week of the campaign could have made a major contribution to human rights without threatening Obama’s lock on the electoral college. Even to a risk-averse politician, that should have been a no-brainer, and it’s fair to criticize Obama for failing to do the right thing.

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