Biden being Biden?

     

    What was up with Joe Biden yesterday? Was his heartfelt embrace of gay marriage, uttered on Meet the Press, simply an off-message accident, a case of Biden being Biden – or was it choreographed in advance by the White House, to telegraph President Obama’s true feelings without committing him to an actual endorsement?You might as well pick one, because everyone else is.It all started with Biden’s remarks: “The good news is that as more and more Americans become to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love?  Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is all marriages, at their root, are about. Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals….”I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.  And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction– beyond that.”We can surely agree that when Biden said “Who do you love? Who do you love?,” he wasn’t channeling Bo Diddley’s rock song. Beyond that, we’re in the dark. Obama always says that his views are “evolving,” which basically means that he doesn’t intend to endorse gay marriage, at least before the election (for reasons I’ll mention later). So it would appear that Biden was merely riffing on his own, as in the past he has been wont to do.But maybe not. Biden has been quite disciplined (for him, anyway) ever since he took the veep oath, and it’s hard to imagine that he would suddenly freelance so flagrantly on such a sensitive issue, at a time when gay leaders have become so restive. Surely the White House must gave cleared Biden’s remarks before he embarked for the studio, in the hopes of mollifying gays with a fulsome wink-wink. That’s certainly what a lot of prominent gay leaders believe, anyway; as Richard Socarides said yesterday, referring to the Obama people, “I think they are sending a message. And it’s a positive one.”Things got really complicated, however, when the White House sought to walk back the Biden message. Strategist David Axelrod tweeted that Biden’s comments were “precisely POTUS’s position.” (Which was hogwash. Obama supports civil unions and opposes discrimination, but he has never said that he’s “absolutely comfortable” with “men marrying men, women marrying women.”) And shortly after Axelrod weighed in, Biden’s office duly fell into line: “The vice president was saying what the president has said previously – that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans…” (No. Biden wasn’t talking only about the legal rights conferred by civil unions. He was clearly talking about “marriages.”)So what’s going on here? If the White House truly intended to signal thumbs-up on gay marriage by choreographing Biden in advance (assuming that’s what it did), then why would it try to walk back what he said after the fact?Because Obama wants to have it both ways. He wants to signal his true private feelings to gay people – and to the American middle that now supports gay marriage – while remaining on record as publicly opposed to gay marriage. Those who back gay marriage can hear what they want to hear (Biden; and, today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan) – and those who oppose it can hear what they want to hear (the walk back). This is either shrewd politics, or too cute by half.The real question is why Obama continues to tread so cautiously. All the best polls, most notably Gallup and the Pew Research Center, now say that support for gay marriage is a centrist sentiment. Biden, a Catholic, was even voicing majority sentiment within his faith; according to Pew, white Catholics support the concept by 22 percentage points. Those who are most opposed to gay marriage – white evangelicals – would never vote for Obama anyway. And very few swing voters will even cast their ballots in November based on the gay marriage issue.But if you delve deeper into those Pew numbers, you can see why Obama remains so hesitant. There is one other voting cohort that strongly opposes gay marriage (by 32 percentage points): the “black Protestants,” black churchgoers who see the concept as a sin against God. They were pivotal in the ’08 California referendum that banned gay marriage; they could be pivotal again tomorrow, in a similar North Carolina referendum.So there you have it. Obama doesn’t want to tick off black voters prior to the election, because he needs them to vote heavily on his side in all the crucial states. Whether Joe Biden went off on his own or whether he was choreographed in advance, the subsequent walk back was in part designed with black voters in mind.That’s politics, folks. It’s a very delicate art. As Carl Sandburg, the great poet and Abe Lincoln biographer, once said, “A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through, and one for pulling rabbits out of.” ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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