Home > Culture, Current Affairs, Politics > Obama and Romney, Gay Marriage and Bullying: Image Construction in the Presidential Election

Obama and Romney, Gay Marriage and Bullying: Image Construction in the Presidential Election

The nature of the coming choice of Presidential candidates for Americans in this fall’s election was starkly exposed this past week in one specific social-issue way at least. Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, recently officially commencing his re-election campaign, committed the first major public act of that campaign, officially announcing his personal support for same-sex marriages. Following almost immediately on the heels of this announcement on ABC was a story in the Washington Post about a youthful Mitt Romney leading a veritable bully mob in pinning down and forcibly cutting the hair of a schoolmate who was rumoured to be homosexual but was certainly at least non-conformist.

Then why does he have a hula hoop above his skull? Are hula hoops “gay”?

Political reportage and punditry is an art based largely in exaggeration of presumed effects and endless over-analysis of anticipated consequences, so both of these stories ran rampant in the media imagination. Still, they dovetailed nicely with the hardening forms of both candidates in the generalized public view. Whatever Obama’s motives for the announcement, and whether or not his timing was precipitated by Vice-President Joe Biden’s expressed comfort level with gay marriage, the deliberation with which he came to the decision of backing the gay civil rights lobby’s most predominant current fight against discrimination fits with his established habits of caution, careful consideration, and honest shifts in perspective. It also demonstrated his fondness for incremental half-measures in the change department, couched as it was in a federalist respect for the rights of states to decide the issue on their own, at least for the moment.

On another level, the decision to support same-sex marriage was possibly not really the President’s, ultimately. Coming immediately after another regressive referendum banning gay marriage passing in swing state North Carolina, Obama perhaps felt compelled to make a stand on the subject that he has often waffled on in the past. In terms of the reactive liberalism of the Democratic Party, something opposed so fervently and illogically by firm social conservatives had to be adopted as a core value for tolerant progressives.

The Romney story, meanwhile, slots in nicely with a strong media narrative being erected around the Mormons Republican former Massachusetts Governor. Namely, this image is that of the callous, out-of-touch plutocrat, eager to carry the water of the ruling class in exchange for a seat at their table, up to and including discrimination of vulnerable minorities. Of a piece with campaign-trail reports of awkward interactions and statements, his professional history as a mass lay-off artist for Bain Capital, and that never-to-die classic story of Romney transporting his dog on the roof of the family car for 12 hours during a trip, this purported eyewitness evidence of Romney’s “gay-bashing” years ago adds fuel to the raging fire of doubt about Romney’s ability to empathize with rank-and-file Americans in a time of great uncertainty about the strength of the economy and direction of the country in general.

That uncertainty should, by all tenets of established political wisdom, benefit the challenger Romney over the incumbent Obama, whose first term has been hamstrung by a tentative economic recovery and constant stiff resistance from a Republican Party that considers him some species of monstrous socialist Antichrist (or at least pretends to in order to appeal to the zealots in their own ranks who do believe as much). But the President and his party will no doubt continue to emphasize Romney’s alterity to the mainstream of American experience just as surely as Romney and his party will emphasize Obama’s own perceived alterity, each in their own way. There appears to be no other reliable way to become President of the United States except to argue, in as many ways as is feasible and in a few other non-feasible ways just to be thorough, that your opponent cannot conceivably become President. The American voter and the interested foreign observer alike have many more months of just this sort of thing to lookg forward before all is said and done in November.

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