Gay Marriage, Women's Suffrage, and the American President

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Today The New Republic came out with a thought provoking Op-ed comparing U.S. President Barack Obama to President Woodrow Wilson, who was in office just a few years prior to the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote. Both were liberal American presidents who wanted to be known for their progressive stances. Both were also populists, and therefore wanted to appease citizens across the political spectrum. But both presidents, in doing so, wavered on civil rights issues and compromised liberal causes.

And both presidents, in the view of TNR writer Richard Just, are destined to have tarnished legacies as a result of their failure to clearly and actively support civil rights issues.

In the years leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Wilson became cagey and tried in vain to avoid the question of whether or not he supported a woman's right to vote. Instead of taking a stand, he deemed women's rights a local rather than federal issue. Just writes that this moment in history now seems oddly familiar:

"An evasive stance on a controversial civil rights issue from a liberal president; an insistence that the issue is primarily local, rather than national, in character; a complete failure of sincerity, nerve, and will: If these things sound familiar in 2010, it is because Barack Obama is taking exactly the same approach on gay marriage."

I'd like to think that Obama cannot simply be reduced to an ineffectual, spineless Woodrow Wilson of his day. But his lack of support for gay marriage positions him to the right of republicans Laura Bush, Cindy McCain, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; as well as 52% of the American people, according to a recent CNN poll.

What do you think? Is Obama destined for less-than-greatness on civil rights issues?