The Washington Post

PostScript: Krauthammer and Obama’s clash with himself

Charles Krauthammer's parsing of President Obama's two arguments for gay marriage is hot today — trending, tweeted and commented on more than 2,000 times. Krauthammer takes Obama at his word that Obama believes gay marriage should be legal because we like gay people and want them to be afforded respect ■ and also because this is America and gay people, like them or not, have the right to get married, even if a state law tries to prevent them.

The problem, Krauthammer argues, is that believing both these theories at once creates such a cognitive dissonance that your head will explode: If this is a fundamental human right, how can Obama also advocate state-by-state acceptance of that right?

It's a dissonance that readers wrestled with, too. Ptgrunner went for pithiness, quoting the headline: “Same sex marriage: Empathy or right?” and saying:

Both, Charles. 

This, apparently, did not resolve the debate.  Mwebster2008 reminded the other commenters that Obama is a politician and is therefore allowed to say things he doesn't quite mean or mean things he doesn't quite say:

He can't demand [gay equality] rights if he loses the election. President Obama is a pragmatic and calculating man. If he comes out too strongly on this issue, he loses ground with the Independents, and he needs the Independents to win the election. Just saying he believes the LGBT community should have equal rights under the law is a HUGE first step, and sets the stage in the minds of the people to become even more tolerant and accepting so he can push for federal legislation in his second term.

Tbr66 opines that there's a reason we keep amending the Constitution:

The problem is the Constitution. Much like the Constitution allowed for segregation (Plessy vs. Ferguson) until the Supreme Court changed course on Brown vs. Board, the Constitution makes no mention of marriage laws, thus, according to itself, leaving that power up to the states. The only way to get involved on the federal level is a constitutional amendment specifically saying same-sex marriage IS a right, and no way that's happening.

Mwebster2008again, on the fact that the federal government can give out only the rights the members of the government themselves support: 

Civil rights should always be a federal issue and should never be left up to the whims of the state, and especially the prejudices of a majority voting public. 

But in all fairness, making it a federal issue at this point with our current Congress is pointless. It would never even come up for a vote, much less pass. At least on the state level, some states have done the right thing and passed legislation giving same-sex marriage rights, which only helps pave the way for federal legislation down the road, or eventually the Supreme Court.

Buddydog notes that cognitive dissonance has gotten us this far, as a country: 


A President or a party may believe one thing, but decide to prioritize other issues, either because he knows the futility of more aggressive action or because taking action might do more harm than good. Republicans did this when they pushed for the abolition of slavery, but did not press for equal treatment under the law. Either they were picking their battles, or they really thought African Americans deserved to be free from slavery, but not allowed the rights guaranteed to all under the Constitution. The idea of believing something but not acting directly upon it might be a logical contradiction, but here in the real world, it's something regular people do every day.

We at PostScript would like to point out that the United States has accomplished some pretty solid things via the pragmatic application of cognitive dissonance. We've started out with empathy and end up at rights: “Civil rights” need not be a toggle switch, either-or proposition.   Some “rights” did in fact, evolve over time, state by state, as the Obama approach seems to envision.

For example, women's suffrage: Prior to the 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920, all of the American west, state by state, as well as New York and Michigan, had allowed women's suffrage. And it turned out that women didn't always vote for the handsomer candidate or otherwise exercise their franchise in silly-goose ways. Yup, it was an illogical, untenable situation that women could vote in Michigan and not Illinois. That made government silly. But it got us to 1920. 


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