Glenn Greenwald is wise here:

When it comes to assessing a politician, what matters, at least to me, are actions, not motives. If they do the wrong thing, they should be criticized regardless of motive; conversely, if they do the right thing, they should be credited. I’ve had zero tolerance over the last three years for people who pop up to justify all the horrible things Obama has done by claiming that he is forced to do them out of political necessity or in cowardly deference to public opinion; that’s because horrible acts don’t become less horrible because they’re prompted by some rational, self-interested political motive rather than conviction. That’s equally true of positive acts: they don’t become less commendable because they were the by-product of political pressure or self-preservation; when a politician takes the right course of action, as Obama did today, credit is merited, regardless of motive.

The trap that politicians set for us (and I admit I’m not immune to it) is that they want us to identify personally with the image they project. But that image is rarely (I wouldn’t say never because it’s theoretically possibly) a full portrait of the person. You often hear about people having “relationships” with an artist through their work, but the goal of an artist is to reveal him- or herself to the world, which is not really the goal of a politician. We’ll never know the latter group much better than they want us to know them. So, as Greenwald says, the only fair way to evaluate them is by what they actually do as public figures, not by our perception of their motives, which is essentially based on assumptions we make about them based on an image deliberately crafted for our consumption. Thus, Obama deserves enormous credit for his stance on marriage.

And I, for one, think the timing is actually pretty close to ideal. Obama just kicked off his re-election campaign formally last week, and this will help in re-energizing and renewing his support among the base at just about the perfect time. Coming as it does after the North Carolina Amendment passing, it doesn’t seem as opportunistic as it would have had the initiative failed, and it’s early enough not to seem sincere rather than desperate. The media response, for once, has been pretty helpful to the president, casting the announcement as something bold, controversial and possibly damaging, rather than a foregone conclusion that nearly every engaged observer had already guessed at. It seems apparent that the whole thing was pretty spontaneous, but this is one of those times when that can make an event much more powerful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Obama get a bit of a polling bump from this, as it’s essentially a way of unambiguously taking the lefties’ side without having to make policy concessions of any sort. Younger voters too. It also shows how fragile Romney’s path to power is–so far, the president has been better able to define what issues the campaign has been about than the challenger has, and expecting the election to be the economy all the time (as Romney hopes) is not all that realistic.


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