JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Will Obama's new stance on gay marriage matter come November?

Will the president's reversal matter come November?

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 12, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's pre-election change of heart. Will his new stance on gay marriage matter come November?

And foiled airline bomb plot raises new questions about Al Qaeda's strength and leaves the administration struggling to explain intelligence leaks.

And a former Wall Street Journal editor speaks out after being fired by the Chronicle of Higher Education for voicing a popular point of view.

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report," I'm Paul Gigot.

In a pre-election change of heart, President Obama came out in support of gay marriage, telling Robin Roberts, at ABC News, he personally believes that same-sex couples should be able to wed. Why now? Will it help or hurt the president's reelection chances?

Let's ask to Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; opinionjournal.com editor, James Taranto; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

James, it's been leaking out from the White House that this was planned sometime before the election, maybe at the Democratic National Convention time, and that Biden moved this up because of the timing of his remarks. How do you read it?

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM EDITOR: Well, there are two things going on here, all right? One, is all right, from a political standpoint, this is about money. The Washington Post reported recently that one in six of Obama's top bundlers, people who raise large sums of money from other people, are gay, and also a lot of his gay supporters had been threatening not to donate money because of an executive order he didn't issue, having to do with discrimination in federal contracts, so he was coming under pressure from the money side.

The second thing is, I don't think we should sell short the fact that this is what Obama believes.

GIGOT: Yes.

TARANTO: You called it a change of heart. It's really more a change of position. He took this position in favor of same-sex marriage when he ran for state senate in Hyde Park, Illinois, an ultra liberal neighborhood in Chicago in 1996. And this he is coming around and he decides it's no longer politically necessary for him to conceal his true views.

GIGOT: The only thing, Dorothy, this was going to happen after the election or before. He was going to take enormous heat from the left if he didn't do this before the election, because, they would have said it looked cowardly.

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yes. And he gets another chance to say he's evolved. You realize what's happened. A perfectly good word of the English language has been lost to time. It's political speak and you can never say evolved again.

(LAUGHTER)

The truth of the matter is that I think it will do him a lot of good. I think it will shore up his credentials. And I think it was going to happen anyway, but I don't think there's any disputing that it wasn't about to happen, what they were planning, in the last two days. And Biden did push it, and pushed it forward.

GIGOT: Well, so what? It's a question of timing and it happens now as opposed to happening in August. The real issue is, I think -- I agree with Dorothy. I think it's going to help him on the left because he would have taken enormous abuse from The New York Times and The Washington Post, as a White House official was quoted as saying if he hadn't.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: As the saying goes, gay politics ain't bean bags. They play rough. They boycott people. They started leaning on the president. I agree with James, it has to do with money and it also has to do with turning out the base, younger voters, very much in favor of this.

But it was not a slam-dunk. In Ohio recent polls, they're pretty recent, put opposition of gay marriage at 52-32; Pennsylvania, another important state, 50-38; in Florida 48-38; and in Virginia and Iowa, it's a wash. So, he's going to have to go into those states and explain to those people why he did this. And I think the game is that, get this behind them now and by the time the election comes around, I think the issue will fade, quite frankly.

TARANTO: One other state we should mention is North Carolina, a state Obama carried narrowly in 2008, which the day before this announcement, voted to amend its constitution to define marriage between a man and woman, 61-39. Obama is generally on the wrong side of public opinion here. Yes, this helps him with the left wing base.

I think it's going to hurt and cost him votes from blacks and Hispanics, who are pretty much against same-sex marriage, particularly blacks.

GIGOT: What do you think, Dorothy?

RABINOWITZ: The four states he needs, Ohio, Virginia, they have passed marriage bans, gay sex marriage bans. However, forward looking, blacks are on this now as opposed to where they were 10 years ago, and Latinos, they're still well behind in any sense of approval for gays. And this is a constituency Obama needs.

GIGOT: But it only hurts him if it becomes a really big issue. The question is, will it be this year if the economy is the dominant political issue? I argue no.

HENNINGER: I don't know, Paul. It's one of those issues, he's done it, it's now been publicized deeply, and people who normally just don't think about it are going to go away and absorb this into their calculation for the November vote. And I think it will, over the next five months, have an effect, as James suggests, on certain classes of voters.

GIGOT: What should Romney do? How should he handle it?

HENNINGER: I think he should say he's in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Most importantly, he should say this issue should be resolved in the states, not by the Supreme Court. We do not need another Roe v. Wade to tear the country apart for 25 years.

GIGOT: The Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 to help with his re-election in that year.

TARANTO: Yes, and voted for by Joe Biden among others.

(LAUGHTER)

RABINOWITZ: If Romney maintains his composure -- he's showing the capacity to be pushed, especially by this blowup of the story about bullying, and the impulse to apologize. If he maintains his composure on gay marriage and --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: And how would you define maintaining his composure.

RABINOWITZ: Maintaining composure is by saying I have made my position clear on this. I believe in the rights for gays. This is what I believe and --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But he's against gay marriage.

RABINOWITZ: Yes, he is against it. Nothing wrong with saying that and then saying we are in a world of trouble, economically, and in terms of unemployment, and I don't think we can continue.

GIGOT: What does this do to social conservatives who have been wary of Romney? Does this drive them more enthusiastically into his camp without Romney having to do anything?

TARANTO: I think it does. It drives them more -- it makes them more enthusiastic about voting against Obama at least. The most important thing for Romney is the tone he strikes. He has to be matter of fact, I'm opposed to this and I'm for the traditional definition of marriage. He doesn't want to come across as harsh. he doesn't want to come across as a Rick Santorum type. That --

(CROSSTALK)

TARANTO: voters, if they are inclined to agree on the issue.

GIGOT: Thanks, folks.

Still ahead, the foiled attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound jets liner raises questions, is Al Qaeda really on the run, and where are the leaks about the plot coming from?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: When these things take place, I can't tell you how much they damage our ability to pursue our intelligence efforts, and so I am fully in favor of a full and thorough investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, condemning the intelligence leaks surrounding this week's news that the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies aided by an alleged double agent had thwarted a plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to blow up a U.S. jetliner.

We're back with Dan Henninger. Also joining us, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.

Matt, on the one hand, good news, plot thwarted. On the other hand, pretty clear that Al Qaeda still working very hard to hit the U.S. targets and getting increasingly sophisticated on how to do it. How do you read it?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Absolutely, I think the main message here is that the bomber in Yemen is still alive. His name is al- Assiri, who is committed to bringing down an airplane in the U.S. He's tried two times in the last two years, twice with the help of the Saudis, who have been able to foil these plots, but there's an ever present threat and it's mostly coming now from Yemen, which I think this really brings home.

GIGOT: And that these sanctuaries are evolving. We used to say, well, it's in Pakistan and now it's in Yemen, and we have maybe some evolving in Africa. Whenever you have the bases of unrest around the world --

KAMINSKI: Right.

GIGOT: -- Al Qaeda can kind of develop.

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Al Qaeda is evolving and we're also evolving. And I think it's important -- there's a lot of emphasis and great focus on the leaks, where they came from, how much damage they've created.

GIGOT: And we want to get to that, but let's --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHENS: But the important point here is, just last Thursday, seven more terrorists were killed in a drone strike in Yemen. The number of drone strikes has increased dramatically. We're clearly hitting these guys very hard. There's evidence, in part, thanks to the leaks, that there's tremendous internal division, confusion, within Al Qaeda. The fact that they've lost one sanctuary and are moving to another means this is a group on the run. We should take into account there's real progress being made against these groups.

KAMINSKI: But I think the important question, we've been hearing for the last few months from the administration that Al Qaeda is on its back foot, it's really struggling, we've gotten a lot of leaders and Usama bin Laden. This shows actually that, in Yemen, the last 14 months has been a country essentially in anarchy. There's been an uprising and there's a president who is now gone. Al Qaeda now controls territory in the south of Yemen. There are towns, one town after another, we have the Al Qaeda flag being raised up. They do have a sanctuary. It's a growing sanctuary in Yemen. I think it actually becomes the main battle ground for terrorism around the world.

GIGOT: Seth Jones, who is affiliated with the Rand think tank, recently wrote for us and he has a new book out, saying that the Al Qaeda affiliates are growing in strength. Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, going back now, after we've left. And you've got emerging cells in Africa, which haven't been able to attack us yet, but you have to watch.

HENNINGER: You have to watch, but recall, back in the 1970s, we had terrorist groups, too. It's not as though we're fighting masked armies. All they have to do is blow up one airliner or blow up the subways in London and they're winning. That's what we're trying to fight against right now is them killing us.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Tell us about the Saudi/U.S. relationship. This exposed a really a much greater degree of cooperation than was at least publicly known.

STEPHENS: That's right. Look, right after 9/11, you had senior Saudi officials denying for at least a year or two that any Saudis were even on the plane that took down the twin towers, hit the Pentagon. There's been a sea change. And all of that has been because Al Qaeda made the decision to start going after other Muslim targets. They had a kind of implicit political backing of much of the Arab leadership when they were blowing up Israelis targets or blowing up targets in the United States. Then they started slaughtering Shiites and Pakistanis, and Saudis. And the attitudes of these governments changed very dramatically. We are the beneficiaries of this kind of intelligence cooperation with the Saudis, because Al Qaeda started to threaten them.

GIGOT: How big of a problem is it, Matt, that the details of this that have leaked out? Mike Rogers, on the House Intelligence Committee, said basically, look, we need an investigation here and you heard the defense secretary --

KAMINSKI: Yes.

GIGOT: -- say I agree. Democrats aren't disagreeing either. So the operational details here were extensive and troubling to somebody who says we want this to keep going.

KAMINSKI: Absolutely. I think there's one concern, that they got this too early. They had to pull the Saudi double agent out of Yemen before they wanted to because they new this would come out. On the other hand, I think it's worth reminding the American public of that the threat that exists so, in a way, making this public is helpful. And at the same time, having Al Qaeda question, you know, whether they can trust the guy next to them may not be a bad thing after all. This is a group that does depend on recruiting from among themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: They were already doing that. I mean, they shot two or three people and sent out videos saying, we have -- these are Saudi spies, last year.

STEPHENS: That's true, but another big aspect that needs to be taken into account, you have a Democratic administration suddenly cracking down very hard on national security. Remember, back in the Bush administration, when you had those disclosures about the SWIFT program, wireless warrant --

GIGOT: The wireless wire taps.

STEPHENS: -- wire taps -- excuse me -- that you had basically cheering that all these secret programs were exposed. Now that a Democratic administration is in power, they're serious about national security. And that's a victory. Something similar happened during the Cold War when the Republicans adopted the containment strategy of Harry Truman.

GIGOT: Dan?

HENNINGER: I think what happened here, Paul, is that this leak was a result of bureaucratic infighting among the intelligence agencies. These agencies in the post-Iraq, post-Afghan period are being reorganized and they are now going to be in competition with one another. And the Pentagon just announced the Defense Clandestine Service on April 23rd, one of General McRaven's internal memos was leaked to the "L.A. Times." And I think this leak fell out of that process.

GIGOT: All right.

Still ahead, a conservative blogger fired for expressing her conservative views. We'll talk to former Wall Street Journal editor, Naomi Schaefer Riley, who got the ax this week from the Chronicle of Higher Education for criticizing black studies programs in American colleges.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: A familiar face to many, former Wall Street Journal editor, Naomi Schaefer Riley, was fired this week from her job blogging for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Hired to provide a conservative point of view on current issues in academe, Riley posted an items last week critical of some black studies programs at some U.S. colleges. She was fired Monday after more than 6,500 people, many of them professors, signed an online petition seeking her dismissal.

Naomi Schaefer Riley joins me now.

Welcome back to the program.

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, COLUMNIST: Thank you.

GIGOT: You must have known this was controversial when you wrote the blog post. Were you surprised?

RILEY: A lot of the blog posts that I've written for the chronicle earned me vitriolic reactions from commenters and things like that. I was surprised that 6,500 people took the time to sign an online petition against me. I was surprised by the dismissal ultimately, that the chronicle caved to the pressure

GIGOT: One of the criticisms is you didn't read some of the black studies dissertations you criticized. You wrote what you did based on their titles and descriptions of them. Is that a fair criticism?

RILEY: I don't think it is. I think writing with 500 -- the new standards you have to read an entire dissertation before writing a 500-word blog post would be absurd and most bloggers and journalists would agree. The piece I wrote was in response to a front-page extensive article in the chronicle itself, which also interviews the people who wrote the dissertations and asked them why they wrote it.

GIGOT: You were hired explicitly to be a conservative voice in what is a fundamentally left leaning magazine.

RILEY: Yes, I mean, I was -- you know, the chronicle certainly knew what I had written in the past. I published two books on higher education. I bring a conservative viewpoint. And they were excited to have this as far I could tell.

GIGOT: What was the first reaction from the editors when the criticism started?

RILEY: They asked me to write a response to the critics a couple of days after they realized it was garnering a lot of the comments. And I said it seems to me that a lot of the criticism I'm getting is personal. I'd rather not actually engage in this because I don't think it's a substantive debate. They encouraged me and I finally --

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Accusations of being a racist --

RILEY: Yes.

GIGOT: -- and all of that.

RILEY: Yes, that I'm a racist, that I don't have a PhD, and not qualified to comment, that I didn't read the dissertations and that I'm a bigot. All sorts of things like that.

GIGOT: we can add, by the way, you're married to one of our board members, Jason Riley.

RILEY: Yes, and he is black.

(LAUGHTER)

And there's a particular irony here, yes.

And so, I said, I don't want to engage in this. This is not a substantive discussion, it's a personal despite, the personal attacks that these people want to make on me. And they said, OK, please, please, please, and I said fine. So I wrote back and I explained why these are not substantive criticisms. At first, the chronicle posted an editors' note saying, we understand your criticism readers, but this is an invitation to debate. And they encouraged other people to post other things. And certainly, they had their thumb on the scales in a lot of ways. They asked the graduate students to respond and the entire senior faculty of the Black Studies Department where the students were to respond and comment. And after four days, the chronicle then decided that I was going to be terminated.

GIGOT: In other words, four days after the original response. And the editor, Liz McMillen's, justification, somehow you hadn't met the standards --

RILEY: Right.

GIGOT: -- even though that hadn't bothered them when you had initially posted or in the immediate aftermath.

RILEY: No, it stayed up there for several days. And Ms. McMillen, who had been at the Chronicle for 10 years, was surely aware of the standards, on top of which, I received -- when I received a copy of their standards, it said no such thing about you can't criticize black studies or you must read the dissertations prior to criticizing black studies in the field.

GIGOT: What does this tell you -- what is the lesson you draw about the politics of academia and intellectual diversity in academia?

RILEY: I wish I could say it's a new lesson.

(LAUGHTER)

But ultimately, it's basically a level of intolerance, a lack of stomach of dealing with any kind of criticism. And the way that they want to get you out is by personal attacks. They're not willing to engage in a substantive debate. It either has to be, you're an outsider, you don't have a PhD, and you're the not qualified or they start calling you names.

GIGOT: Basically, do they have conservatives still at the chronicle?

RILEY: There are a couple. Mark Bowerline (ph) is one of the bloggers and Richard Vetter (ph). And I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Some subjects are just off limits?

RILEY: I think that's the lesson to future people who want to engage in this kind of debate in academia.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, Naomi.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week -- James?

TARANTO: Dick Lugar is a sore loser. This is a miss for Indiana's senior senator who lost his bid for a 7th term. Washington establishment types mourn the loss of this great statesman. His concession speech was not very statesman like. It was a denunciation of his successful challenger for being too partisan. Surely a statesman can lose gracefully.

GIGOT: Matt?

KAMINSKI: I hate to -- the Russian opposition leader who, on Monday, spoiled Vladimir Putin's re-coronation at the Kremlin by getting 20,000 people out into the streets of Moscow launched a sit-in and showing that the Russian opposition, which had flagged a little after the election in March, is still there and is still challenging an essential autocratic leader.

GIGOT: OK, Bret?

STEPHENS: This is a miss to Douglas Durst (ph), the developer who is building the Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center, which was supposed to go to 1776 feet thanks to a magnificent 400-foot sculptural spire. Mr. Durst (ph) has decided that spire would be impossible to maintain and also very expensive. He wants to put up an antenna that looks like a twig and will leave probably the official height of the building at 1368. We wanted it to go to the moment of our declaration of independence, Mr. Durst (ph), not be stuck in the Middle Ages.

GIGOT: James, quickly, is the guy who beat Lugar, Mourdock, have a chance to win?

TARANTO: He has a pretty good chance on the Republican stage.

GIGOT: OK.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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