In the Arena

The Bully Pulpit

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Sometimes you feel an otherworldly–perhaps even divine–presence in the affairs of humankind. Today we have the astonishing juxtaposition of President Obama’s awkward, belated embrace of gay marriage, and the painful Washington Post story about Mitt Romney’s days as a bully at the ritzy Cranbrook School in Detroit. In the end, I suspect, neither of these will have much impact on the results in November–nor should they. But they are both fascinating in their way.

There has been some unfortunate staff blather about Obama’s announcement–that he was planning an elaborate “rollout” of his “evolved” position on gay marriage, that aides were distressed that Vice President Joe Biden had “stepped on the story.” That sort of talk, and that sort of thinking, is disgraceful. You don’t roll out a moral position. You simply announce that after much thought, you’ve changed your mind–or, after much thought, that you haven’t. In 2008, Obama didn’t roll out his position on Jeremiah Wright, he simply made a speech–one of his best–criticizing the ranting reverend as soon as Wright’s foolish comments became known (and then Obama acted decisively cutting Wright loose, when he wouldn’t stop running his racist mouth). As for Biden, he was asked a question that demanded a straight (as it were) answer and he gave one. That is admirable. Period.

As for the larger issue, I am grateful to the gay community for the courage it has shown over the past three decades–by liberating itself, it has liberated the rest of us to become more fully human. If it hadn’t been for that courage, a fair number of Americans would not have known that some of the best friends and most beloved family members were gay. With that knowledge came the acceptance, still growing, of institutions like gay marriage and gay adoption. The level of anxiety and terror and self-hatred has been diminished significantly in our society as a result. Let Unconquerable Gladness Dwell.

I am even feeling charitable toward Mitt Romney, although the incident described in the Washington Post creeps me out in a major way. I once was 17; I was bullied at times and, worse, allowed others to be bullied at times, too. It’s certainly not a period that I’m nostalgic for. And now, I’ve had three sons who managed to get past that hyper-hormonal age, too–and each of them is profoundly different from whom he was back in the testosterone-addled day.  I would not judge them, or me, on the cringe-worthy behavior of that dreadful, smelly, awkward moment in a young man’s life. So I won’t judge Romney, either. What he did was awful. I’m sure he’s terribly embarrassed by it. And if the revival of those memories helps to make him a better, more tolerant candidate–as I suspect it will–we’re all the better for it.

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