Larissa MacFarquhar’s “The Conciliator,” her profile of Barack Obama in this week’s New Yorker, runs to 9,926 words, one of which is gay. As a percentage of the total article, that is .01007%, which coincidentally equals the Democrats’ comfort level with homosexuality in the 2008 election. So it’s no surprise that the man who literally ran away from questions of whether or not he thinks homosexuality is immoral might try to sidestep a question about gay marriage, but what sort of journalism is it to leave the answer to a friend who can only waffle?
Sometimes, of course, there is no possibility of convergence—a question must be answered yes or no. In such a case, Obama may stand up for what he believes in, or he may not. “If there’s a deep moral conviction that gay marriage is wrong, if a majority of Americans believe on principle that marriage is an institution for men and women, I’m not at all sure he shares that view, but he’s not an in-your-face type,” Cass Sunstein, a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, says. “To go in the face of people with religious convictions—that’s something he’d be very reluctant to do.” This is not, Sunstein believes, due only to pragmatism; it also stems from a sense that there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it’s wrong.
Nothing about this paragraph holds up. The ethics of this position—this imagined position—are so dubious as to edge close to bullying and cowardice: For those “religious convictions” imagine anti-Semitism. MacFarquhar followed Obama from Illinois to Washington to Iowa, yet somehow she never asked him to clarify his view on Sunstein's take? Even grammatically it doesn’t flow. Sunstein appears to start an If then sentence but midway veers off in a confused second-guessing. The whole thing is a mess. It would never have passed Mr. Shawn's pencil.