Obama’s LBJ Moment with His Gay Marriage Endorsement

May 11, 2012

by Robert Dallek

In an election year nearly 50 years ago President Johnson took a risky stand on a civil rights and triumphed. Historian Robert Dallek on the parallels with Obama’s gay marriage endorsement.
Vice President Biden’s surprising declaration of unqualified support for gay marriage seems to have forced President Obama into a public endorsement of a controversial social issue. It is difficult not to suspect that Biden’s pronouncement aimed to give the president some political cover. Vice presidents don’t usually stray so aggressively from a president’s wishes, especially in an election year when putting your boss in a difficult position could possibly cost you your job.

But at the end of the day, whatever the political maneuvering behind the president’s decision to come out decisively for something that excites considerable opposition, the more important fact is that Mr. Obama has taken a stand on a right that several states have rejected, including, most recently, North Carolina, an electoral battle ground that could make a difference in Obama’s reach for a second term.

Why was the president willing to take on this issue now when it could work against him in what promises to be a tough reelection fight? It could be that Obama campaign officials believe that very few opponents of gay marriage are going to vote for the president anyway—so why not boost and solidify his standing with liberals and some sympathetic independents whose enthusiasm for a second term may make a difference in the November out come?

It’s also possible that the publication of Robert Caro’s fourth volume on Lyndon Johnson, which includes a discussion of LBJ’s courageous stand on the 1964 civil rights bill, triggered President Obama’s decision to come out for a gay right that he sees as long overdue. What makes the Johnson analogy so plausible is that, like Johnson, Obama is taking this on in an election year. read more

Robert Dallek is the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, and is currently writing a book on the Kennedy advisers.

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