THE HERO'S JOURNEY

Public opinion research tells us that individuals' partisan identity crystallizes in early adulthood and is resistant to change as we age. The same is generally true of our attitudes on political issues, albeit with more wiggle room. As the political environment changes and as our views and priorities change (I believe sociologists still use the term "life course effects" to reflect the evolution of outlook that comes with major life events like college, entering the workforce, marriage, parenthood, home ownership, retirement, and so on) we are more willing to change our tune. If the bottom suddenly falls out of the economy, we become a bit more favorable toward things like unemployment benefits. When we buy a home we start to care about property taxes. When we're retired or about to retire we become much more pro-Social Security/Medicare. We do, in short, shuffle our priorities and change our minds in a systematic way.

As long as they're not doing it at apparent random, it's never a sign of weakness for political figures (or ordinary people, for that matter) to change their opinions over time. Thoughtful people tend to do that. It's not a sign of intellectual weakness. I used to be in favor of capital punishment; as I learned more about, and gave more thought to, the issue I changed my mind. Please don't think less of me.

There are bonus points to be won for entertaining these changes of heart and mind when it is politically unpopular to do so. No one gets a round of applause for coming out against Jim Crow-era segregation in 2013. Once opposing segregation became overwhelmingly popular, taking that position skirted the fine line between Evolving Opinions and political opportunism. Coming out against segregation in the 1920s – now that would be worthy of a hat tip. That involved some risk. That meant accepting the risk of taking an unpopular stance.

As all of the data from the last 20 years show, there has been a dramatic change in Americans' attitudes toward gay marriage over time. It has gone from a political third rail (Remember when gay marriage referendums used to be put on ballots because the right knew that people would come to the polls just to vote against it?) to a rapidly moving bandwagon in an astonishingly short period of time. Whereas people used to be hesitant to speak out for it, people are becoming more hesitant to oppose it for fear of being perceived as backward, bigoted, and behind the times.

Politically, being pro-gay marriage is a relatively easy thing to do now. For Democrats, it's downright popular. For Republicans, it has majority support among the younger generations and the Unspeakable is being spoken now even among the older ones. Gays now serve openly in bastions of macho-hetero symbolism like the military, major corporations, all levels of government, and throughout the media. Even in the bone-headed culture of professional sports, gay-bashing is met with immediate rebuke these days (remember Chris Culliver, or Kobe Bryant scolding homophobic fans on Twitter?)

All of this is a lead-up to the question of why Hillary Clinton came out in support of gay marriage in March of 2013, and whether this is supposed to impress anyone. For all her strengths, HRC has been remarkably risk-averse in her political career and has come up woefully short on this issue time and again. It's the reason that many people, myself included, have criticized her as a political opportunist, a party insider who advances into new territory only after it has been made safe by others. It's not exactly a heroic move at this point, and it's difficult to believe that there was no point before now – just months before the Supreme Court may be about to resolve the issue and after almost every Democratic elected official of any note has already endorsed it – at which she could muster the courage to take a stand.

A key criticism from the left of both Clintons and their DLC-type followers within the party is and has been that they adopt issue positions based on popularity rather than taking positions and explaining why people should support them. What Hillary Clinton has done with the gay marriage issue is a perfect example of that. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad she has come around or "evolved" to what I believe is the correct position on the issue. That said, her unwillingness to support it before it was declared Politically Safe to do so is a good example of why she couldn't rally Democrats behind her in 2008 and will have trouble doing so in 2016. Fortune may not always favor the boldest, but it certainly does not favor the least bold.

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35 Responses to “THE HERO'S JOURNEY”

  1. Da Moose Says:

    Exactly why I would never vote for her. She voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. She has no political courage. She's been an elitist insider from day one, part of the problem.

  2. argleblargle Says:

    so, do you think hillary is for sure running for president in 2016? I really thought she wouldn't, but this is suspicious.

  3. Arslan Says:

    Yeah I have to agree with Da Moose and say that her "evolution" on gay marriage is more than canceled out by the supporting the Iraq War alone, if not laughing at the murder and sodomizing(with a knife) of Gaddafi.

  4. blahedo Says:

    Actually, I feel pretty much the same about Obama on this issue. Every time he has done anything at all for LGBT issues it's only because he was basically forced into it. He's certainly never *led* on the matter. He's getting all this credit for the stuff he said in the SOTU this year (or was it the inaugural?), but it's like, sure, if he'd said it a few years ago. In 2013? That's not leading, that's following the crowd.

  5. Patrick Says:

    Supporting gay rights also mitigates Republican blowback from Larry Craig style scandals.

  6. J. Dryden Says:

    Heroic? No. But there's a quality of 'opportunism' that's inherent in every democratic politician's career. Elected legislators aren't activists–activists can afford to be polemic and single-issue. It's worth keeping in mind that Lincoln only went full-bore abolitionist until it was pretty goddamned opportune for him to do so. And he was well behind the openly anti-slavery positions of many prominent colleagues (notably Salmon and Seward, both of whom lost the nomination in large part because they would not shut up about the evils of slavery.)

    Yet was Lincoln a coward for so doing–or was he someone who knew that victories in politics often go to those who play the long game? Who wait until the time is right (and invisibly nudge that time along as much as they can) and then, when decisive action can be taken–when the people are finally ready to commit–strike the invincible blow?

    I'm not comparing Sen. Clinton to Lincoln, really–and other, less admirable men and women have adopted the Lincolnian approach to long-game undeclared policy maneuvers. (FDR was a master of it, but so was Nixon. And Stalin. So, you know, it's not like it's an automatic path to virtue.) I'm just saying that some politicians do not believe that "right away" is always the best time to stand up–because such theatrics often do more damage to the cause. Clinton knows that she's a lightning rod for the hatred of the right–that any cause she speaks up for will engender a disproportionate amount of digging-in-of-heels because it's HER. It's THAT BITCH.

    I'm not sure, then, that I mind her remaining silent all this time. I favor the cause more than I care about its endorsement by certain people. It may be argued that she should have spoken up sooner, but why, exactly? This issue is going to be settled in the Judicial branch, not the Legislature. Yes, there's the symbolism of support–granted, that's important, and one may well slam her for not giving it. But if her support actually cost the proponents of gay marriage progress in their cause, is it not better that she remained silent?

    I'm largely playing devil's advocate here–but it's always easy to come to the cynical conclusion about such decisions, and again, I can't help but think of the face-spiting-nose-cutting contempt that was hurled at Lincoln by the abolitionists–that the son of a bitch was just 'playing politics' with the grand cause…

  7. J. Dryden Says:

    Sorry, "Chase," not "Salmon," which was the Treasury Secretary's *hilarious* first name.

  8. Middle Seaman Says:

    Hillary doesn't seem interested in continuing her political career. Therefore, I find the comment here redundant. For the racist of "everyone but Clinton" that brought us the ambassador from Wall Street, Obama, all I have to say is: if Hillary is not courageous, Obama is a coward.

    By the way, the change happened when Admiral Mullen pushed for integrating gays in the military. Politicians are seldom setting trends. The days of FDR, JFK and LBJ are long gone.

    What's the point?

  9. eau Says:

    NAWG.

    Like Obama, if she does want to run for POTUS, Clinton can't really afford to be out in front of public opinion on controversial issues because she's Not A White Guy. Every time a politician takes a stand, chances are they alienate at least as many people as they please. NAWG politicians already scare/disgust/alienate large swathes of the electorate by being NAWG. They can't afford the risk of losing "floaters"* who just might have strong opinins on a particular issue.

    *Floaters is a much more appropriate name than swing voters. Heheh… Floaters.

  10. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    How is the time course of her "evolution" significantly different from Obama's, and how could it have played any rational role in deciding between the two of them in 2008?

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    What @eau said.
    Most politicians tend to be risk-averse – or, rather, successful ones are.

    Except for those who are in now Rupublican Red States, which 50 years ago, were a sea of Blue.
    States in the former Confederacy, and former Border States, are full of the followers of Authoritarians, and whose politicians are also allowed, if not encouraged, to be, racists, misogynists, xenophobes, and/or homophobes. They learn how to use dog-whistles, so they don't seem openly so.
    They can clearly strike, and maintain those positions, and win their district, state, and Senatorial, elections.
    What they have a problem with, is national elections. Why does anyone think that they had to cloak George W. Bush's camaign with the BS about "Compassionate Conservatism?"

    And it sometimes takes someone who was part of an old order, to create a new order:
    -Just as the old saying goes, "It took Nixon to go to China" – he was allowed to do that, because he had been an unabashed anti-Communist throughout his career.
    -It took Lincoln, born in a Border State, and an Illinois politicians, to go to war with the Confederacy, and hold enough Border States in the Union to win the war.
    -It took Teddy Roosevelt, a rich man, to tear apart monopolies and trusts.
    -It took FDR, a rich man, to impose high taxes on the rich, create make-work projects, and create SS.
    -And it took LBJ, a powerful Southern politician, to support Civil Rights, and sign the Voting Rights Acts, and Medicare and Medicaid.

    Barack Hussein Obama's hesitant, because he is the first non-white to be POTUS. And doesn't want to be the last of his race to hold that office.

    If Hillary runs, she won't exactly be a progressive populist while she's campagning, because, if elected, she will be the first non-male POTUS, and won't want to be the last of her gender to hold that office.

    What Hillary CAN do, or so it now appears according to polling, is appeal to a lot of the former Democrats who became "Reagan Democrats," and she can get those votes in Appalachia, and parts of the Mid West and South West. She also has some appeal to Independents, and a lot of appeal to Moderates.
    If successful, her coat-tails can help bring more Democrats into both the Senate and the House, where the laws that create change really happen.

    And, like President Obama, when enough Democrats were in the Congress to pass some truly progressive legislation in his first two years, I'm sure she'll be more than happy to sign those laws, too.

    A lot of Presidents "lead from behind."
    Obama knew what he wanted, and he let Congress do the work. Did he get everything he wanted? No. But he got a lot.

    I'm not her greatest fan, but if Hillary is the Democratic candidate for President, you bet I'll volunteer for her campaign.
    The alternative, a Republican President, with a Republican Congress, is unthinkable.
    Or, rather, so 'thinkable,' that I'd rather not think about it.
    It scares the sh*t out of me.

  12. JMG Says:

    In fairness to Clinton, from 2009-2013 she was Secretary of State and therefore unable to comment on U.S. domestic political issues.

  13. xynzee Says:

    "Fortune may not always favor the boldest, but it certainly does not favor the least bold."

    I dunno about that. Our movie-infotainment society may love to think that it lives by this myth, but reality proves otherwise.

    There's a truism amongst rock climbers. That in order to be number one in the world, really what you need is patience. Eventually, everyone above you will get too cocky and make a mistake and fall off their perch (literally) and leave you as NUMBER F—in ONE@!!

    Most of the time victory goes to he who reads the winds, and strikes when the time is right. You think pushing a SCOTUS challenge when it's heavily weighted with conservative judges is not a waste of time and resources? While there could be a surprise, it's *because* Kennedy, Roberts or Alito buck their trends, not because they rule against gay marriage. If it fails now, it closes the door longer, than if advocates had played a tactical waiting game.

    I remember a lecture in university that boiled down to the following message: The main reason humans were able to evolve into more of a cerebral nature would probably have had a lot to do with leaving the "wimpy" nearsighted types at home with the women, whilst the more manly-man types went to war and got themselves killed.

    Or: While Torg was off getting getting himself killed to prove how "manly" he was. Poindexter was shagging the women and passing on his genes.

    Who's laughing now?

  14. xynzee Says:

    @CU: beautiful take down.
    @JMG: how quickly we forget the obvious. Though as DaMoose and JD pointed out, Clinton not only has to deal with her baggage over Iraq, but also being "THAT BITCH!" in order to get elected.

  15. Eric Titus Says:

    Every politician, even FDR and LBJ, will only take a position after being pushed and prodded. Obama has led from the front on a small handful of issues, but on most others he took a position only after it became hard not to. But that's sort of how it is in a democracy. Why expect the president to be the standard-bearer for the left despite a history of bipartisanship and mild-mannered leadership? Even liberal states (California, New York, Washington, Illinois) have failed to produce any senators that could really be seen as truly liberal. And chances are that back in the day politicians were only marginally more so.

  16. Rosalux Says:

    Seconding @JMG – I think as Sec. of State, Hillary either was averse to commenting on domestic policy, or didn't want to get out in front of Obama on the issue and steal his thunder.

    That said, yes, HRC is maddening. She's great on most issues, but only comes around to them after triangulating and poll-testing everything. Is she more spineless than most other politicians of our time? No. But that's really the issue, isn't it? Politicians are by nature cautious out of an understandable concern for job security, but never before have politicians been so craven, so careful, so averse to saying anything interesting or unpredictable (beyond the tea party candidates). I think the fear is that the 24-hr news cycle will blow up any deviant remark, and so that's why we end up with a class of milquetoast stuffed-shirt politicians that wouldn't know character if it slapped them in the face.

    Except Biden – he lets loose. And for his candor is labelled a gaffe-machine.

  17. Elle Says:

    Without wishing to excuse HRC for her spinelessness, I imagine that it might also be slightly awkward to obliquely (or even directly) criticise a law that was signed into being by one's own husband.

  18. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Kristen Gillibrand has her eye on a white house run and not only favored gay marriage in her campaign but has since worked on the issue at the federal level.

    There's obviously political calculation here, too; when she was a rep for the upstate NY boonies she was a lot more ambivalent, if not mildly hostile, and now that she has a NYC constituency supporting gay marriage is a political winner. (She had the same evolution on gun control.)

    But, still: woman, eyes on the presidency, supported gay marriage awhile ago.

    I don't want to push it too much but there is a risk of diminished expectations for politicians driving their calculations and making them more centrist and wishy-washy than otherwise would be.

    Oh and Clinton's a snake who would make horrendous staffing decisions. She's barely above Andrew Cuomo, by my reckoning.

  19. Heywood J. Says:

    I can't help but think (hope) that the supposed inevitability of Hillary (and Jeb, for that matter) as a '16 candidate is simply the product of wishful thinking from a lazy, complaisant media that enjoys having narratives pre-scripted for them. Hillary as always struck me as a more temperamentally conservative version of Bill. There's a slogan for ya — all the triangulation, and less of the liberalism.

    No more Bushes, no more Clintons, period. We do not need anymore dynastic figureheads. Surely these large, wretched political "parties" we're stuck with have more than the same usual couple of families to choose from. What is this, El Salvador? Let's see if either entity can muster someone who isn't on Jamie Dimon's speed-dial.

  20. JazzBumpa Says:

    FWIW, as a young adult, I was VERY conservative. Now, as an old fart, I'm more progressive than 99.9% of the population. This change came largely from two things: 1) thinking about things from a human rights perspective, and b) gathering and analyzing real facts and data. Conservatism simply cannot stand up to that kind of scrutiny.

    Back to the matter at hand. I think what often gets overlooked is that the Clintons and BHO are NOT progressives in any meaningful sense of the word. Sure, they lack courage, but that's kinda beside the point. They also lack moral conviction on progressive issues, so why would they ever even consider taking a progressive stand?

    Remember when snarling old man McShame called BHO the "most liberal" senator? I fucking wish. BHO is more conservative than Clinton, and Clinton was often to the right of Eisenhower – does anyone remember him?

    I'll say it again. The political left in this country is almost exactly the size and shape of Bernie Sanders.

    But why do basic issues of human rights even have a left-right polarity?

    I have my own answer to that question, but I'll leave pondering it as an exercise for the interested reader.

    Meanwhile — WASF!
    JzB

  21. Nocomment Says:

    Geez, has it occurred to anyone that she will be 69 years old in 2016 (a year younger than me).
    That office needs a younger person and I don't mean Booker, Cuomo, Emmanuel.
    That leaves……crickets.
    Hell, there isn't anybody.
    Never mind.

  22. Bernard Says:

    watching Hillary suck up to Mellon after Whitewater and the rest of the Republican smear machine just shows how evil HIllary is. a class A act. would leave Lenin/NIxon, Reagan in the dust. Dangerous and ego centrist. she's been burned and that talk about the 3 am phone call to nuke Iraq says it all.

    HIllary would be fun to watch, though i'd prefer a Republican to get this Hostage Taking Game over the Republican and Democrats run. Democrats have no balls, so maybe Hillary would be the perfect Democrat, eggs over balls. lol. sexist bs, but Hillary has shown more balls than any man in politics outside of Cheney. Cheney. lol two peas in a pod, ruthless amoral and effing anyone and anybody to get what they want.

    Obama is the greatest thing the Republican have ever done. Getting a Black man to screw the Blacks and other poor people. that was just no accident. lol anyway White people in the South will never vote for Blacks, the Fear of the Armed Black/blah person has never gone away. Slavery and getting over the Blacks in the back of the Whites' minds. don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

    that's why Obama's cutting SS and Medicare/Medicaid is something no White could ever do.

    simple politics and simple minds allow EVIL people the easiest way to get over, like Obama has been doing wiht the "outright" pretension of the indignant Whites of the Republican Right. such a perfect setup . and most white people will never dare see how well it works, saying 'it's obvious that's not the case, but actions speak louder words.

    it is so sad to see such blantant underhanded collusion, carefully disguised, of course. getting rid of the safety net, what a historical mark only a Black could do, with the help of the Republicans of course.

    who cares who leads us. we have been the frog in the water and now the water is getting more and more hot as time passes. too late to want a Democrat to save us. We need to be saved from the Democrats who enable the Republicans who sold us out to Business.

    as some itinerant Russian said. Capitalism will sell America the Rope to hang itself with.

  23. Tom Says:

    So there's a decent amount of anti-Hillary rhetoric here. If not her than who? (poised merely as a question and not as an assertion that she's the only choice). Booker is too young. Cuomo is too young. Emmanuel is too abrasive. And that leaves who? Biden? Old and funny but an easy punching bag for the right. O'Malley? I love the guy but he's had some gaffes in his career. Brown is too old. Newsom is waaaay too young. I just don't see the prospects for a major party candidate. (I'm sure I'm missing a fair number of people, please add on to the list).

  24. Major Kong Says:

    Can't say I'm a big fan of Hillary but I'd certainly vote for her over whichever foaming at the mouth, knuckle dragging, conspiracy theory spewing, Tea Party nut job is likely to get the GOP nomination in 2016.

    Cruz? Rubio? Walker? Kasich? Ryan? Nutjob yet to be named?

    Any takers?

  25. Kineslaw Says:

    While HRC just publicly announced her support for gay marriage, her actions have been pretty good. She extended benefits to same-sex partners of State Dept. employees. She gave a speech saying gay rights were human rights in 2011 and the U.S. is starting to, slowly, promote gat rights abroad.

    Clinton is not a leader in the gay rights cause, but she deserves some credit for her entire record on the issue.

  26. excruman Says:
  27. Heywood J. Says:

    Tom, I disagree about Booker, Cuomo, and Newsom being too young, especially by 2016. Cuomo will be 59 in '16, Newsom 49, Booker 47. Bill Clinton was elected when he was 46, Obama is only 51 now. Newsom especially is a good example of someone willing to take a genuine political risk, not afraid to step on his dick for principle. I'll take that over gutless incrementalism any day of the week.

    It has been timidity and political calculation that has held the Democrats back for so long, and young idealists such as Newsom, Booker, and Cuomo (or hell, Julian Castro for that matter) are their future, if they're ever going to transcend their current status as Wall Street's center-right party. Assuming the GOP once again nominates either a pelf-engorged ninny or an ideological sociopath, I suppose Clinton would be preferable. But they have better sluggers on their roster.

  28. Elias Says:

    I live in a college town and work the summers doing rural forestry type stuff. Two completely different environments as far as the politics of the people I interact with go.

    To see guys from the latter on Facebook championing gay rights really, really surprised me. Guys who are younger but extremely conservative. Guys who aren't totally sure that Obama wasn't born in Kenya. But they're on there with the courage to take a position I had 100% expected they would not support and deal with the flack socially from saying these sorts of things in a very, very red part of the country. Really surprises me.

  29. JaktheYak Says:

    It is telling that her declaration of support came around the same time that Bill O'Riley (who is definitely an opportunist when it comes to ideology) more or less said that gay marriage supporters have the only rational and "American" argument in this debate. If Papa Bear is willing to say it, it is beyond safe for a Democrat to do so.

  30. Doctor Rock Says:

    I definitely wouldn't call Booker or Cuomo idealists. I'd barely call a guy as bad on labor as Cuomo a Democrat, but if he's the best my party's got, oh well.

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