Marriage Equality and Marijuana: the Obama Youth Consensus

Almost every conservative I knew in college favored both same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana without hesitation. Secular Jewish conservatives were especially adamant about supporting same-sex marriage, though plenty of others fully agreed. There were the odd religious conservative holdouts, but virtually all supported the aforementioned two issues, even for reasons of pure pragmatism. Those few who opposed same-sex marriage were much more defined by their involvement in Christian organizations than their identification with conservative politics, not withstanding whether they self-described as “conservative.” Among the minority who opposed same-sex marriage, I recall none that were especially incensed about its inevitability.

Same-sex marriage is happening, and this has been known and speculated about for a long while. But on Election Night 2012, a dam broke. Same-sex marriage was ratified by popular referendum in four states — Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota, driven by the 30-and-under crowd — for whom LGBT rights has always been a marquee issue.

Again, conservatives are included in said crowd; many are gay themselves or at least know more than enough gay people to sympathize with the cause of LGBT equality. (The fact that a British conservative, Andrew Sullivan, helped popularize the notion of same-sex marriage in the late 1980s speaks to the conservative nature of this policy change.)

The young conservatives I knew also readily acknowledged the idiocy of keeping marijuana possession a criminal offense — or at least something that police officers ought to arrest teenagers for, saddling disaffected youths with lifelong records. The idea that society should drag citizens into the criminal justice system for possessing a mostly-harmless plant item is just foolish, many young conservatives thought, even if these conservatives would advise others not to smoke marijuana. (Though, of course, many themselves indulged.) Wasting law enforcement resources on minor offenses is also unsound policy, these conservatives reckoned.

The decisive victories for marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington represent a watershed moment for disrupting the prohibitionist consensus, and this has spurred plenty of young conservatives to cheer.

Speak with a wide range of “30-and-unders” in “Swing States” and you will hear that drug policy and LGBT rights are of higher priority than among other age groups — by a long-shot. Again, this equally includes young conservatives and especially libertarians, the latter of whom typically hate nothing more than drug prohibition. Data indicates that the Democratic Party stands to benefit most from the stark shift in public opinion among young people, because Democrats are generally seen as the party friendlier to drug policy reform and protecting LGBT rights. Republicans are increasingly seen as an unseemly pack of white male Christian zealots who have lost touch with reality.

When Mitt Romney paid a visit to Colorado in May and was asked about the marijuana legalization initiative, he scoffed with incredulity: “Aren’t there issues of significance you’d like to talk about?”

A good lesson for the GOP would be to recognize Mitt’s error and understand that marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage are “of significance” to growing numbers of young people. Romney apparently lacked the political judgment to internalize this, but if he had simply checked the polling data, he would have learned that marijuana legalization is favored by more than half the country, and the Colorado initiative was forecast to pass all along. To Romney, however, that he should have ever been expected to even answer a question about marijuana legalization was preposterous.

Obama once again swamped the GOP nominee with young people across all categories in part because Obama is FAR more culturally-familiar to young people than Romney. Romney came off as a relic of some stale bygone era. Romney would cite “Keystone Kops” and deploy Pat Boone as a spokesman, whereas Obama appeared in Ohio with Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen, while Lady Gaga — the most-followed person on Twitter — wrote messages of support.

More and more, the GOP looks like a discredited embarrassment of a party to these young people, who are sick of their LGBT friends being demonized by Christian demagogues claiming to speak on behalf of the entire faith. As a consequence, in 2012 many young people looked past Obama’s failures and decided to grant him a second term. As I wrote for The American Conservative on October 1,

If Barack Obama wins reelection, as current polling trends predict he will — perhaps resoundingly — we can expect to hear in the weeks that follow endless analytical wisdom from the usual chorus of pundits. Doubtless, they’ll herald the president’s amazing political savvy and tactical brilliance; “No Drama Obama,” his moniker from the 2008 campaign, has done it again! He was always ahead of the curve, they’ll declare — a master of “three-dimensional chess”! Destined to leave the hapless Romney blindsided! Biden was key! Etc.

The point holds: Obama did not win reelection because he is a singularly-brilliant politician or because he ran a particularly skillful campaign. Indeed — Obama squandered a great deal of political capital, and his first term was unsuccessful due to poor tactical judgment in concert with other factors.

For years, GOP partisans gloated about the prospect of defeating Obama easily. Turns out they were correct that he was a very vulnerable incumbent. But the GOP refused to do any “soul-searching” during the 2012 primary, opting instead to fall in line behind a man who distinguished himself not one iota from George W. Bush in any substantive sense. Younger voters still remember well the administration of George W. Bush, which was one of the most disastrous in U.S. history. While these young people may not approve of everything Obama has done, they have enough good sense to acknowledge that while the “I inherited this mess” trope might be a bit overplayed, it contains a great deal of truth.

Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to publicly declare support for same-sex marriage. Obama’s Department of Justice has ceased defending the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act. Obama successfully coordinated the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

Romney signed a pledge proclaiming that he would support a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and thereby nullifying existing same-sex marriages in States which recognize them. And we wonder why Mitt’s party was rejected so decisively by “millennials”?

In truth, Mitt never said anything substantive about marijuana legalization or same-sex marriage, because during the primary he committed to hardline positions in opposition to both those issues and set them aside. (Although it’s true that with about two weeks to go before Election Day, Mitt’s campaign operation flip-flopped re: same-sex marriage, wavering on the aforementioned pledge, which had been signed during the GOP primary to appease social conservative pressure groups.)

Furthermore, rank-and-file Republicans need to understand that they were deceived about Mitt Romney’s dedication to the issues closest to their hearts. Mitt Romney ran for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy in 1994 and presented himself as a stridently pro-choice Republican, who would be even more effective than Ted Kennedy at advancing LGBT rights in Washington, D.C. because he’d be one of the very few pro-LGBT Republicans serving there. Romney later told Evangelical Christian GOP primary voters (in 2008 and 2012) that he experienced a revelation sometime in the early-to-mid 2000s — which just happened to coincide with his decision to first seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2008 — and changed his mind about abortion. (In hindsight, is it any wonder that John McCain and Mike Huckabee so detested Mitt back then?)

Mitt Romney’s most formidable opponent was not Barack Obama, but clips of himself on YouTube making statements that flatly contradicted what he purported to believe at various points during his six-year campaign. (Does chronic lying and mendacity qualify as a sin per Mormon doctrine?)

Obama was allowed to win because the opposition party allowed itself to degenerate into a vehicle for hysterical, childish anti-Obama rage. There was no coherent case brought against the president, and there was no desire within the GOP to nominate a wise candidate with sound instincts — it was all about removing Obama from power, at any cost. This underlying passion ultimately crippled the GOP, which imposed countless delusions upon itself; even when polling data made it perfectly clear Obama would prevail, they insisted otherwise. That Romney himself was “shell-shocked” upon learning he lost says much. Those who read the New York Times were not at all surprised by the blowout.

The GOP has become so inextricably linked with the Conservative Media “infotainment” apparatus such that its political and legislative agenda are driven by retrograde actors like Ralph Reed, Franklin Graham, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Dinesh D’Souza, Tucker Carlson, Sheldon Adelson, (the late) Andrew Breitbart, Benjamin Netanyahu, Rupert Murdoch, and so forth. The hateful, factually-wrong messages espoused by these actors might be good for generating profit, but it is not a message that resonates with most Americans.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.