I’ve always admired Harry Truman for his ability to go forward with moral acts despite the fact that these acts were at odds with his personal prejudices. Although he was a good old fashioned Southern anti-Semite, in 1948, at the UN, he voted for the State of Israel, because it was the right thing to do. Likewise, even though he was a good old fashioned Southern racist, he authorized the military’s integration, because it was the right thing to do.
Obama is a self-avowed proponent of traditional marriage, yet he has just announced that a federal law upholding traditional marriage is unconstitutional. Is this a Harry Truman moment? Is he putting aside his own prejudices to do the right thing?
Sorry, but no, it’s not a Harry Truman moment. You see, Harry Truman didn’t flim-flam voters by promising never to support a Jewish state or an integrated military, and then changing his mind. These were issues that arose out of the blue, so to speak, that were not part of a national debate, and that had never required Truman to sell his position — any position — to the American public. They were deeply personal decisions for him: do the right thing at that moment, or do the prejudiced thing at that moment. He chose the former course both times, marking him as an ethically brave man.
Obama, however, sold the public a bill of goods. He campaigned as a proponent of traditional marriage. Jeffrey Anderson summarizes nicely:
President Obama has now decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. Thus, the Obama administration says that it will no longer defend that federal law in court. On the campaign trail, President Obama repeatedly asserted that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Now, the president has apparently decided that his own view, at least when codified as federal law, is unconstitutional.
Rather than appearing Truman-esque, Obama simply increases the perception that he is a con man. At the very least, if he’s had this kind of change of heart, he should be explaining to the public the reasoning behind the change. He’s not making any such noises, though, because there are no such noises to make.