Taking One for the Team

May 14th, 2012

A follow-up to Evolve and The Evolution Will Be Televized, inspired by the recent spate of gay rights news.


Politics is often about “taking one for the team,”
The effect of which usually moves voters to the extreme.
But with African Americans and the freedom to marry
Maybe it can do the contrary.


The team effect is when members of a political party adopt the party’s position on an issue not on the merits, but in order to support the party. It goes well beyond the standard partisan political situation in which a Congressperson may not care about a particular issue (e.g., a cloture vote on a piece of legislation he/she doesn’t have a vested interest in), but votes with his or her party in order to “be a good team player.” In the full-blown team effect, members of the team actually adopt positions (and often develop strong emotional attachments to them) because those are the positions their party/team/group favors.

Climate change is one example. One can easily imagine a situation in which Christian Conservatives would come down strongly on the side of stopping (or at least minimizing) global warming (protecting God’s creation, and such). But they haven’t. Quite the contrary: it’s become an article of faith among Christian Conservatives that human-induced climate change is not real, and/or even if it is, that we shouldn’t do anything about it.

The individual mandate is another example. Pop quiz: Should people be allowed to freeload on the healthcare system and force those who made the responsible choice of buying health insurance to subsidize them? The Republican response to that used to be a resounding no, which is why Republicans developed and pushed the individual mandate idea as a free-market alternative to the Clintonian healthcare reform approach. And wouldn’t you normally think that Democrats would oppose the individual mandate, since we (at least according to Republicans) like the idea of freeloading off of responsible people? In fact, candidate Barack Obama made opposition to the individual mandate a key part of his 2008 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, just as then-candidate Mitt Romney made support of it part of his. Strange, no?

Yes, but what’s even stranger is that those policy positions are diametrically reversed, with the Democratic Party supporting the individual mandate and the Republican Party vehemently opposing it. That’s the opposite of what most people would have predicted in early 2009. Then, Republicans in Congress were still pushing the individual mandate. If Obama hadn’t come to the conclusion that the mandate was in fact necessary, one can easily imagine years of GOP attacks on Obamacare for encouraging freeloading, with rabid Tea Party mobs, egged on by Fox News and Americans for Prosperity, protesting the lack of an individual mandate that would destroy America-as-We-Know-It, just like the Tea Party initially protested that responsible homeowners might be asked to bail out the underwater mortgages of their less responsible freeloading neighbors. (Even though that didn’t end up happening, that’s the issue that actually gave rise to the Tea Party.)

Anyway, I digress. The point of this long introduction is to demonstrate (1) how powerful (and at times, counter-intuitive) a force the team effect can be, and (2) that for some reason, the team effect seems to favor Republicans. But here’s where I get to my main point.

With marriage equality, progressives finally seem to have a team effect that has the chance to benefit us rather than Republicans. While that probably won’t help the President with white Midwestern voters, it may prove effective with the President’s African-American supporters.

I’m not talking about a political benefit here: the President’s support among African–Americans is so strong and durable, that I doubt that his “coming out” will hurt that support, but it also won’t win him any African-American votes. So while this team effect may help Dems in the long term, the more important and immediate effect is to leverage the President’s support among African-Americans to push those who are against same-sex marriage within the African-American community to reconsider their views and themselves “evolve.” And that’s how society moves forward. In other words, Obama is using his political capital (at possible political cost) to do the right thing forAmerica.

That’s called leadership.


Here’s the “rant heard around the world,” by Rick Santelli on2/19/2009, which is credited with launching the Tea Party. Change a few words here and there, and he could have just as easily been attacking healthcare freeloaders and demanding an individual mandate to solve that problem.


Here’s Rep. Jim Clyburn this morning on the Daily Rundown discussing his personal evolution on marriage equality.


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Here’s Hardball’s 5/14/12 panel discussion on the impact of the President’s marriage equality postion on African-American support.

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