A question of character
President Obama’s long national evolution is over. His bewildering, bungled admission that he now supports marriage for same-sex couples, after a lengthy “evolution” expedited by another Joe Biden gaffe, was an embarrassing episode he won’t want to repeat.
Team Obama failed not only to assess the enormous cost of delay and diversion, but also to anticipate that sending spokesman Jay Carney out to bob and weave without any new and clarifying statements would be not only devastating, but laughable. Under either scenario, that it was deliberate or Obama was forced into his admission, he failed a test of leadership.
Unfortunately, allies in the fight, who feel Obama’s pain, including a Cabinet member, then began throwing him under the bus. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, when asked on MSNBC on Monday whether gay Americans should have the right to marry, refused to dodge and said crisply, “Yes, I do.” And numerous activists from the LGBT community stated their widespread belief that the president had completed his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage and simply wasn’t admitting it publicly.
Obama has earned praise from the LGBT community for signing hate-crimes legislation, repealing the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and directing the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and supporting its repeal. But there were plenty of political reasons to avoid taking an official stand on the marriage issue — North Carolina on Tuesday passed a constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions that Obama opposed. Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by fewer than 14,000, with the help of 300,000 new black voters. Many of them oppose gay marriage and — already disappointed by the economy — could decide to stay home. Despite gay marriage being legalized in eight states, and a small majority nationally now supporting it in polling, voters have rejected it every time it has appeared on statewide ballot measures, as North Carolinians did this week.
But the issue Obama struggled with was not just same-sex marriage — he allowed a controversy to grow and turn into a question of his character. Though his aides tried attacking his opponent, and the fact that Mitt Romney once pledged to be more supportive of gay rights than the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, it did nothing to muffle the noise of Obama’s strained silence. The president’s problem was his own attempt to hide the truth until after the election and to have it both ways.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.