Liberals have a tendency (much more pronounced in 2007 and 2008 but still evident) to imagine that Barack Obama is just as liberal as them. Because he's obviously smart, because he dabbled with genuine leftism in his youth, and because he opposed Iraq, liberals think he's actually Paul Krugman, forced by electoral circumstance (or cowardice) to talk and govern like George H.W. Bush. Coincidentally, this is also Newt Gingrich and Stanley Kurtz's thesis. It's silly when they say he's hiding his socialism behind a veneer of centrism and it's silly when liberals say he's doing the same.
But on one issue it's pretty obvious that Barack Obama is simply hiding his dangerous radicalism: same-sex marriage. He famously signed a questionnaire affirming his support for same-sex marriage in 1996. But he apparently thought that he couldn't remain so liberal if he wanted to be a national political figure. By 2008 he opposed gay marriage, favoring the more reasonable-sounding civil unions instead. He did still oppose DOMA, though, and he plainly understood why gay couples need legal recognition.
The only thing that Alex is missing is that there's another liberal tendency that is probably just as irritating: being addicted to feeling betrayed to the point of concocting conspiracy theories that posit that all Democratic leaders are secretly Republicans. It's black-and-white thinking, for sure, but it's widespread. These liberals will seek any evidence they can find that Democrat X is exactly like the most far right nutter out there, even though the evidence tends to suggest that said Democrat is a fence-straddling centrist who is too afraid of his shadow to ever commit to a point of view, which is completely unlike far right Republican assholes. While the vast majority of people I spoke to at Netroots had a nuanced view of Obama, I did run across in the past few days, online and offline, people who were pushing the "Obama is a member of the religous right" line. For instance, knowledge that Obama's administration—like Clinton's before it—had put a minor amount of funding into some abstinence-only programs was rolled up into being the same thing as Bush mandating that all schools teach nothing but abstinence, unless they get their federal sex education dollars revoked. (This was after the zombie abstinence-only was brought up on a panel, so I can somewhat see why it's confusing, but still.) And, to my dismay and surprise, a Facebook friend insisted that there was no difference between Michele Bachmann's point of view on gay marriage and Obama's view. The method used to determine this was to find the most reasonable-sounding thing Bachmann has said (her garbled and clearly facetious claim during the GOP debate that she wants to leave it to the states—which also requires ignoring that she wants a constitutional ban at the same time) and then to round up Obama's weaseling statements while ignoring his actual opposition to DOMA and his appointment of Supreme Court judges who are likely to vote against it.
I can't actually believe that people believe this stuff when they say it. I think there's an emotional reward to claiming that Obama hates the gays just as much as Bachmann, because it makes things nice and simple. Plus, enough time has passed that we've forgotten how much damage a Ralph Nader situation can do. I'm as unhappy as everyone with the fact that Democrats are cowards, but I still remember the Bush years, and pretending that Democrats are the exact same thing as Republicans didn't do us any favors then. And Republicans are even more radical now. Pretending Bush and Gore were the same is why we're in two wars and there's a solid chance that Roe v Wade is going to be overturned. Oh yeah, and if Gore had been elected and had all those Supreme Court appointments that Bush ended up getting? The gay rights movement would be fully empowered right now to challenge gay marriage bans in the high court with assurance that they would win.
This is where I blame Obama and all Democrats like him: Look, when you clearly agree with left on an issue, you have a real chance to kneecap the people who are eager to claim you're a closet Republican by coming out firmly on the side of the left. Obama allows the paranoids to claim he hates gays by playing the centrist position when we all know that he's far too damn smart to believe the blooey about civil unions. It's also galling now that half the country supports gay marriage. The game is over. The main person you're hurting is yourself with this "civil unions" and "I'm evolving" crap. Throw those of us who are in the trenches arguing with the paranoids a bone and say what you mean, so we can point to it. We're your main weapon against a Ralph Nader, you know. Work with us here.
Because as it stands, I honestly think that Obama could sign a repeal of DOMA, and people would still be claiming that he's a closet homophobe, because he'd probably do so while spouting some legalese that allows him to avoid saying the magic words, "I support marriage equality," and losing the two or three votes that he probably still gets for that.