“He probably got out a little over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit. Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Of course. But all is well that ends well.”
-- President Obama in an interview with ABC News.
President Obama blamed the clumsy rollout of his reversion to his pre-2008 support of same-sex marriage on Vice President Joe Biden.
The Obama narrative, reinforced with background briefings to media members is that Biden bungled the calculated plan of the president to publicly reverse the position he publicly adopted for the 2008 election: personally opposed to same-sex marriage but indifferent to state-level efforts to establish it.
Obama’s new public position is that he is personally in favor of people of the same sex being able to marry but officially indifferent to efforts on the state level to establish or prevent the practice. His position prior to his national political ascendancy was wholly supportive of the practice and that he would “fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” so he has almost gotten back to where he was.
Federalism is an unlikely retreat for a president who has favored federal intervention in everything from conscientious objections of religious groups regarding insurance regulations to state rules regarding the capture of illegal immigrants. The Obama Justice Department, for instance, is currently suing several states to prevent them from requiring identification at polling places.
But with North Carolinians, including at least 35 percent of Democratic voters, having just made their state the 30th to approve some form of ban on same-sex marriage, the president can hardly go all the way back to his original position of fighting efforts to block same-sex marriage.
Obama is very keen to win North Carolina again, though that prospect looks increasingly unlikely, especially given Obama’s partial public reversion on this topic. But several states Obama needs to win have similar rules, including Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. Crucial Colorado is currently embroiled in a legislative battle over a Democratic effort to legalize an equivalent but differently named institution for same-sex couples.
The message from the president to voters in these states is that he won’t try to override their wishes. He’s not angry, he’s just disappointed in them.
The new Obama straddle doesn’t do anything practically for same-sex marriage activists, but it is a symbolic victory for them to be able to say that for the first time in history, a sitting president has embraced their cause. Since these activists equate their efforts with that of those who fought for equal rights for the descendants of slaves, the new Obama straddle is seen as an important incremental step toward victories like those won by black Americans in the 1940s and 1950s.
(Same-sex marriage proponents believe that sexual yearnings are, like skin color, a matter of genetic determination. Opponents of the practice argue that sexual interests are mostly attributable to behavioral conditioning and personal choice. Obama shares the view that same-gender sexual preference is determined at birth.)
Practically speaking, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have identical positions on same-sex marriage since Romney too is a federalist on the subject, as he is on many topics. But Obama’s expression of his feelings on the same-sex subject is significant for proponents, especially given the fact that the president has been ardently supportive of same-sex relationships in his official policies.
For Obama to suggest in his ABC interview that the teachings of Jesus, the founder of the faith of more than 200 million Americans, support his position on same-sex marriage reveals the depth of his support. Obama is opening himself to charges of reckless eisegesis from Christians in order to make a stronger argument for his case.
So there’s no question that Obama sincerely believes governments should endorse the practice of same-sex marriage and there’s also no question that the president was in an untenable position on his same-sex stance prior to Biden’s expression of “comfort” surrounding the equivalence of gay marriage.
But as for why the president would do it in such as awkward way – a midday interview with the host of ABC’s morning show – Obama blamed the vice president, suggesting that Biden, a man often mocked for his blurting and blunders, had simply done it again. The president’s suggestion is that he had a more elegant and politically effective plan for letting voters in on his choice.
Democrats argue that the president’s support of same-sex marriage is a positive since it shows him, a president often seen as weak, as a bold leader. It also allows Democrats to further attack Romney as a cruel extremist for an audience of suburbanites who seem open to the Republican’s moderate record and economic pitch.
But certainly this week was not an ideal time to announce his feelings, given North Carolina’s vote as well as the raspberry West Virginia Democrats blew in his direction. Obama is already in bad shape with moderate Democrats and he can hardly benefit from reviving the culture war from the left. A strong plurality of Americans already think that Obama is too liberal and his endorsement of same-sex marriage will certainly not help him undo that damaging perception.
So why now?
Obama says it was because of Biden’s blunder. The president, who has in the past mocked “Sheriff Joe,” certainly has a case in arguing that his second-in-command is gaffe prone.
But tonight, Obama is headed to California for a huge fundraiser with movie heartthrob George Clooney. The event will include many Hollywood luminaries and will itself raise millions for the president’s re-election bid. In addition, Obama has been raising money off the dinner with a contest in which supporters can register to win a trip to Clooney’s event by making small donations and providing their personal information to the campaign.
Same-sex marriage is a huge issue in the entertainment industry, which employs many proponents of the practice. California voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2009, prompting outrage in the film industry.
Whenever Obama heads to California to raise money he is sure to be pressed on his previous straddle – personally opposed but “evolving.” With same-sex marriage proponents increasingly angry over the president’s coy stance, Clooneyfest would have been tres awkward.
Next week, Obama heads to New York for another entertainment-industry-themed fundraiser hosted by gay icon Ricky Martin, a 1990s pop singer who is now a Broadway star. The fundraiser is for Obama’s dedicated “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” coalition. It’s hard to ask people to fork over $30,000 while simultaneously explaining that you can’t publicly express your support for their most cherished cause.
Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist with impeccable Democratic sources, writes today that one in six of Obama’s top fundraisers is openly gay. Obama is running the most expensive campaign in history, already burning through tens of millions of dollars each month. He needs his bundlers fired up and ready to go.
It is telling of Obama’s intense financial needs that this week he is willing to risk the support of swing-state moderates but not his fundraising corps.
A Quote to Remember in November
“They’ve just handed us the names of 900,000 people who are known, or are likely to be, anti-conservative voters. It’s a huge favor they’ve done. Without it you were stuck with somehow ID'ing these voters.”
Rick Wiley, political director of the Republican National Committee, talking to Slate on how the recall petitions in the union-led effort to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker helps Republicans identify potential Mitt Romney voters in the state, which has non-partisan voter registration.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“It must say now this is another unique example of evolution in which a species evolves one way and turns around and goes back.
That also hasn't been seen, at least recently, meaning the last million years or so.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.