Is there a big difference b/w Portman switching on gay marriage b/c of his son & Obama because of his gay friends? abcnews.go.com/Politics/trans…
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 16, 2013
One thing you learn from following Glenn Greenwald on Twitter is a certain kind of specialized trolling. Glenn is very good at phrasing something he believes in a way that will piss off his erstwhile allies, people who voted for Obama but may be sympathetic to the more radical positions Glenn holds. This tweet is a good example. Can I argue with the underlying point Glenn’s making here? Not really–Obama’s change on gay marriage was a political calculation, as Portman’s was. It showed Obama’s cautious political nature and general unwillingness to grasp progressive causes unless he sees that cause moving towards the center.
But there’s at least one difference between Portman and Obama on this specific issue: Portman did it because changing his position will lead to a clear and direct personal gain–his actual gay son might get an real benefit from the state based on his father’s position. As far as we know, Obama’s change in position gives him no such benefit. For you freshman logic fans, that’s the fallacy of equivocation. Glenn’s trying to say that one of Obama’s stated reasons (his empathy for friends and staff who are gay) is the same thing as Portman’s (a real parental interest in the outcome of the debate).
That doesn’t invalidate Glenn’s whole argument–as I said above, he’s mostly right that Portman and Obama engaged in political calculation. But Portman’s political calculation was essentially random–lighting struck in the form of a gay son, so Portman changed one single position, while he holds on to his others. Obama has been slowly marching towards gay rights, perhaps too slowly, but his movement is based on a set of coherent, consistent political beliefs that might not be radical enough for Glenn but are certainly going to do more for gay rights than sitting around waiting for more lightning strikes.
To forestall the first dozen comments pointing out that Glenn trolled me here because I’m writing about one of his tweets, guilty as charged, and so what? Greenwald’s an interesting character and I sure don’t think I’ve gotten him figured out, because I don’t understand the need to piss off a whole swath of people who agree with a cause near to your heart to make your latest point about Obama’s lack of purity.