On this day when a momentous series of cases related to gay marriage are being heard before the Supreme Court, I thought it time to reflect on a broader topic of leadership and motivation.
So often in life we let fear, old stories or myths prevent us from living from our heart and pursue what we love, cause us to be less tolerant, or keep us from leading in a strong compassionate way. Many times fear causing us to fight (against bullies) or flee (when imminent danger is around) is a good and valid response. But when fear and old stories cause us to freeze or to not lead in a heartfelt way, we know we are probably about to make a bad decision.
The bullies in our lives (and politics) will often repeat old stories about ourselves, themselves, or society in general in order to keep us from doing what our heart knows deep down is just and right. This happens many times in our relationships, in our jobs, or just in the interaction with friends and the people we care about. It causes our elected officials to freeze and not lead where the country deep down really desires to go. Leaders usually never lead, they usually follow where the country is already going. This happened in a profound way on the issue of gay marriage.
The strength of the anti gay marriage message as a successful wedge issue in politics a while back proved ineffective. I have written and talked about this before, but it bears repeating on this important day in our country’s history and for the world when nine folks in robes listened to arguments on both sides of the gay marriage issue. In 2004, voters were already ahead of our leaders, and the amendments on the ballots concerning the legality gay marriage had no effect on turnout.
Speaking from experience as the chief strategist in 2004 for President Bush, I saw in close detail how little gay marriage could influence turnout of conservatives or evangelicals. In 2003 and 2004, we did a series of public opinion tests on different messages related to the micro targeting project that would cause voter groups to turn out more in President Bush’s favor. We tested social issues as well as messages related to the economy, national security, taxes and the size of the federal government. Not a single social issue (which included gay marriage) fell on the effectiveness scale in the top eight messages.
Further, in analyzing the election returns in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential race an interesting set of data was revealed. In states that had gay marriage amendments on the ballot including key target states, there was no statistical difference in turnout of conservatives from states that did not have these amendments on the ballot. Gay marriage had no effect on turnout even among the most conservative potential voters in both the data before Election Day and the returns on Election Day.
The 2004 election already was showing voters were ahead of our leaders and especially ahead of consultants who grew up using wedge issues in the 1980s. They were repeating an old story that was no longer true. And this old story even scared Democratic politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as President Obama, all of who were against gay marriage as recently as the 2008 election. They bought into this old story and myth and were afraid to lead from a place of love and compassion, and reacted with fear. Not fear of reality, but fear of a myth.
This same type of fear also caused many leaders (and the media) not to stand up in the face of a disastrous war in Iraq. In that case they were afraid of being called weak or unpatriotic on defense, and because of that fear thousands of life’s were lost and more than a trillion dollars spent because many of us didn’t have the courage at the time to stand up and say no. Many Republicans use this fear to scare leaders from opposing a failed policy on war and military defense.
Further, the old story that voters do not want entitlement programs to be reformed is another example of some politicians running in fear from doing what all of us knows has to be done if we want to maintain a viable safety net for folks who need it. And like Republicans on the Iraq War, Democrats use this myth on social programs to scare leaders from doing what voters understands is needed.
The acceptance of gay marriage has come a long way in only a few short years mainly because we now have a generation of voters who have come of age in a time of their friends and acquaintances being openly gay their whole lives. And this generation of folks each has parents like myself who have watched their children bring friends who are openly gay into their homes, and have also learned a more compassionate way. It has just taken our leaders a while to catch up where the country is already headed on this issue.
Whenever we have a decision in life and the choice boils down to one of reacting to fear or following love, the divinely inspired journey we are each on demands that we follow love if we desire a soulful and compassionate society. It seems the average citizen out there understands this much better than our leaders, and gay marriage is a perfect example of this in today’s politics.