March 24, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Typically writing, especially writing an opinion piece that wishes to express a particular point of view to readers so that they come away with certain clearly-defined and persuasively informative new ideas, follows a well-known format. You start by introducing an idea. Then you back it up with facts and key points that are essential to understanding your stated idea. Then you conclude in a way that ties everything together.
It’s a simple, three step process, so sometimes it’s just strange to watch it go all so horribly awry, as it did in this piece over at The Atlantic, “Why Obama Isn’t Backing Gay Marriage”.
The piece aims to explain to readers why the president is not yet a supporter of marriage equality. By the end of it I was just mad at its writer, and I forgot all about the marriage equality thing. Because, you see, as the writer sees it, it’s the fault of black people:
…it splits the two core constituencies that make up President Obama’s base: college-aged voters and African-Americans.
Young voters are the driving force behind making gay marriage politically acceptable. But black voters, despite their overwhelming support for the president, are among the leading opponents of gay marriage.
As an initial point, I’m not totally sure what “leading opponents” actually means in this context. It sounds dangerous and threatening. But are “black voters” actually leading any opposition to gay marriage? Are there black voter drives to oppose it? Are there black voters speaking out in huge numbers, or enormous campaigns with African Americans at the forefront in opposition to marriage rights? He doesn’t provide any evidence or even any suggestion beyond the phrase “leading opponents.”
Certainly left unmentioned in the piece is the fact that the NAACP and civil rights leaders like Julian Bond and Ben Jealous were and are still actively campaigning for marriage equality in any number of states and regions.
Then again, however, when the article does introduce evidence, it’s so absurd and incorrect that it does lead one to think maybe they were right to avoid the introduction of even more of this stuff. It’s so, so bad:
The bigger element consists of African-American voters, who are solidly opposed to gay marriage. California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage passed in 2008 thanks to overwhelming black support; 70 percent backed it, according to exit polls. Recent gay marriage legislation in Maryland drew opposition from leading Democratic African-American legislators in the state.
Alright. As anyone who’s read virtually any information about Proposition 8 in California knows, the initial exit poll claiming 70% black opposition was incorrect. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a study that was conducted by political scientists disproving the “70%” number. Using a flawed exit poll that was taken apart in a comprehensive study is not an effective way to make a point.
Aside from the 70% number, though related, is the general theme that black people are to blame for the way that vote turned out. They are not, as people have been shouting consistently since the vote was announced in November 2008.
And then, after presenting no evidence to make this point, the writer says “Obama can’t afford to even risk losing the deep enthusiasm black voters have towards him.” He then goes on to further avoid presentation of evidence on this point. Confused, I searched for polling data that would suggest that the president would lose black voters if he announced support for marriage equality. There is no polling data on this front. I searched for anecdotal evidence, and there are a couple of outspoken pastors but generally the people who are discussing these things are those in support, for instance the NAACP. I have no doubt that he “can’t afford” to lose a constituency that supports him in great numbers, but having read absolutely zero evidence of any sort that this will happen, one is left with the distinct impression that this piece should not have yet made its way to press.
And in its closing, in case you were uncertain where this was all heading, he tells us directly and forthrightly that black people as a constituency are in fact to blame for the lack of announcing of marriage equality support by the president, oddly typing that “it’s a crucial element of his own base that’s preventing the president from taking bolder steps to advance a cause that he seems to believe in[.]” Now, I mean, pick fights all you want. Page views and Facebook shares are great and all that. But seriously, throughout the piece, the only evidence the writer presented was (1) AAs vote in high numbers for Democratic presidents and especially support this one (2) a flawed exit poll from a single ballot initiative four years ago (3) vague comments about people (who?) who might not vote for the president if he announces support for marriage (with nary a mention, of course, of how the president already took a substantive action on this front, announcing that the DOJ will stop defending DOMA in court; though that won’t lead to marriage all across the country, it’s more of a substantive decision than an announcement of support of marriage would be, and magically, still, he is not being abandoned.)
So, in closing, please make it stop already.