Obama, cricket and same-sex marriage: What does it all mean?

Obama, cricket and same-sex marriage: What does it all mean?

Norwich : United Kingdom | May 16, 2012 at 1:26 PM PDT
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U.S. President Barack Obama’s public declaration of support for same-sex marriage has prompted me to think of a kind of anticlimax that cricket lovers around the world know only too well.

The famed Caribbean historian-philosopher CLR James highlights such a moment of cricketing climatic contradiction in his book “Beyond A Boundary."

James tells the story of his teen-age observation of “one single stroke” by a batsman that has deeply affected his view not only of cricket, but politics, socioeconomic relations and life in general. That stroke was played by a batsman named Arthur Jones, a member of the Tunapuna Cricket Club (TCC).

James spent much of his formative years at his two puritanical aunts’ house, a window of which overlooked TCC’s home ground. TCC is located about eight miles east of Port of Spain, the capitol of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), James’ twin-island Caribbean republic home.

Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Trinidad in 2009 when the island hosted the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

While there, the U.S. president was introduced to Trinidadian “Prince” Brian Lara, holder of the world record for the highest batting score in a single test inning: 400 runs.

Lara, a former West Indies captain reportedly gave the American head of state a brief batting lesson. According to a (T&T) Newsday report, Lara showed Obama “the proper batting stance and gave a few tips on the forward defensive stroke as well as a demonstration on how to execute the classic cover drive.”

He apparently spared Obama an introduction to the “cut stroke,” one of the most risky in cricket.

It was a cut stroke by Arthur Jones, interestingly enough, that facilitated what James recounts as a landmark, developmental moment in his construction of an ideological pyramid.

This stroke, writes James, and his childhood puritanical fascination with a Tunapuna ruffian named Matthew Bondman – whose one redeeming quality was his talent with a cricket bat – seemed the start but were in fact the end of that ideological construct: “The last stones put into a pyramid whose base constantly widened, until it embraced those aspects of social relations, politics, and art laid bare when the veil of the temple was rent in twain as ours has been.”

I will not pretend to recall (or even to ever have known) the precise sociological, political, economic or other revelations about Trinidadian, Caribbean or the wider American civilization that James likens to that biblical “sign and wonder” that attended Joshua of Nazareth’s crucifixion (I explain my preference for the name Joshua over the transliteration “Jesus” in my book "The Bible: Beauty and Terror Reconciled”) .

Such detail here may just be a distraction.

What I am obliged to note is the absolute appropriateness of crucifixion imagery - exquisitely associated in Christian teaching both with humanity’s darkest and brightest hours – as a metaphor or matrix both for the situation in which Obama finds himself now (and may find himself in November) because he has “come out” in support of same-sex marriage and the anticlimax phenomenon that James says began with his childhood critique of the blessed and blighted character Matthew Bondman and his encounter of one cut stroke by Arthur Jones.

This was one cut stroke in several that Jones had played in his batting career. He was as renowned for his mastery of this difficult, deft-touch-and-timing-dependent sporting feat as Obama is renowned for his political prowess.

On the day of the “one single stroke” James addresses, Jones “a brownish negro," like Obama, “was in his best form."

In nearly every over, says James, Jones was “getting up on his toes and cutting away." The watching crowd – there was always a crowd when Jones batted, says James - would have been fully behind him applauding and cheering as he performed for them.

But it was “an awful rainy day," the weather foreshadowing the dramatic spectacle James was about to observe as if it had been scripted as an omen in a Shakespeare play.

James recounts the fateful, philosophically fraught moment this way: “Down came a short ball, up went Jones and lashed at it, there was the usual shout, a sudden silence and another shout, not so loud this time. Then from my window I saw Jones walking out and people began to walk away.”

James says he did not see when the ball struck by Jones was caught by a fielder from the visiting side who had been positioned at point. He had to ask what had happened.

But the point he makes clear is the impact that fateful cut stroke and moment had on him. He says, “I knew that something out of the ordinary had happened to us who were watching. We had been lifted to the heights and cast down into the depths in much less than a fraction of a second.”

“Countless are the times,” he continues, “that this experience has been repeated, most often in the company of tens of thousands of people, I have never lost the zest of wondering at it and pondering over it.”

Has Obama furnished us with a political equivalent of this anticlimactic cricketing scenario this past week?

In football terms, is his declaration of support for same-sex marriage a spectacular own goal?

Will the outcome of the November presidential race reveal this disclosure of his personal feelings about same-sex marriage to have been an electorally fatal miscalculation on his part?

Some in the Republican Party may certainly think so.

Obama’s support for homosexual unions is just the kind of position their evangelical Christian base – and his, more critically - could sharpen their teeth on.

It’s precisely the kind of politically and religiously inoculated, fear inspiring view that could erode the support of the black conservative Christians that still back Obama – despite his liberal views on abortion, genetic engineering research and other issues that strain their relations with and support for America’s first black president.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released on Saturday, showed 26 percent saying Obama's support of gay marriage will make them less likely to vote for him as compared to just 13 percent who say it will make them more likely.

These figures indicate that President Obama’s move may drive away many independent and even Democrat voters, says a Christian Post report on the poll results. (Perhaps Lara got his drive and cutting stances confused when he tutored the U.S. president about batting.)

But Obama may take some comfort from another Gallup statistic: the fact that about 60 percent of Americans say that his May 9 announcement will not alter who they will vote for.

Rick Santorum is not daunted by that statistic. He sees Obama’s honesty about this controversial issue as a great “weapon” opportunity for Mitt Romney, as another Christian Post report points out.

But before the Republican umpires take the bales from the stumps and declare the presidential election game over – and many Republican supporters have been doing just that for some time with lesser instigation – they may want to take stock of Obama’s careful choice of words.

He spoke of his views on same-sex marriage as both a personal and evolving opinion.

Now, while a turn-around in his thinking on the scale that one would associate with his likely November challenger Mitt Romney is not probable, this “hedged” expression of his views does allow Obama some room for manuever if the political climate dictates this.

He has not said, “If re-elected I will move to have same sex marriage legalized,” has he?

It seems to me that there is a world of difference between the expression of a personal opinion by a political leader and a pledge or similar undertaking to support that opinion officially.

It is the difference between a cut and a drive.

The boxer-politician Manny Pacquiao, a devout Christian who has “come out” fighting against Obama, denouncing his same sex nod could learn a thing or two from the American president – and from CLR James.

(Note: Pacquiao has denied a statement attributed to him by the Christian Post, which suggests he said homosexuals should be killed, as dictated by a passage in the Bible.)

If you like writing about U.S. politics and the 2012 campaign, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.

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People toast to President Obama's support of same-sex marriage in San Francisco
People toast to President Obama's support of same-sex marriage in San Francisco
Junior Campbell is based in London, England, United Kingdom, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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