The end of Obama’s “evolution”

The president endorsed gay marriage today. You can thank Joe Biden for forcing his hand

Topics: War Room,

The end of Obama’s “evolution"

Update: President Obama told ABC News’ Robin Roberts Wednesday, “I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

– – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – – — – –

There’s no official word yet, but there are some strong signs that Barack Obama will publicly say that he supports same-sex marriage today.

The president is sitting down with “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts at the White House this afternoon, an interview that was apparently arranged in the last 24 hours. An ABC News spokesman tells the New York Times that it will be a “wide-ranging” conversation, but it’s hard to believe Roberts won’t press Obama to clarify his position on gay marriage – and it’s even harder to believe the White House would arrange something like this if Obama wasn’t prepared to do so.

Obama’s attitude toward marriage equality has dominated the news this week, thanks his Joe Biden’s seeming endorsement of it on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” When the White House tried to downplay the vice president’s comments and to insist that they were entirely consistent with Obama’s position, it served to highlight just how vague Obama’s view has become – and how calculated his self-described “evolution” seems. And when Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, said on Monday that he supports gay marriage, it was a reminder of just how far behind his own party Obama was falling on the issue.

The controversy badly disrupted the Obama team’s script. They have long hoped to avoid confronting the marriage question during the 2012 campaign, believing it could jeopardize Obama’s support in swing states, and maybe even diminish enthusiasm among a small (but potentially crucial) segment of the African-American community. They hoped that by publicly saying that his views were changing and racking up a strong record on gay issues, Obama would be able to convince gay marriage proponents to look the other way until his second term.

But the Obama script was always a tough sell, if only because few people who know his history actually believe he has any qualms about gay marriage. As a state Senate candidate in 1996, after all, Obama indicated his emphatic support for it on a questionnaire, making him one of the very few (or the only?) politicians to evolve from backing marriage equality to defending “traditional” marriage. With Biden’s comments and the White House’s incoherent walk-back attempt, the press lost its patience and began pressing for a clear answer, resulting in some uncomfortable moments for press secretary Jay Carney this week. Here, for instance, was how ABC’s Jake Tapper raised the issue on Monday:

There are very few people who think that the president is not going to, after November, whether he is reelected or not, come out in favor of same-sex marriage. I think there are very few people on the president’s campaign who doubt that, very few people who support the president, very few people who oppose the president, who have any doubt that that is what is likely to happen. And if that is the likely future of the president and this position…why not just come out and say it and let voters decide? It seems cynical to hide this until after the election.

Carney had nothing to say, and there wasn’t much he could have said. When you boil it down, the Obama gay marriage strategy for 2012 has long depended on everyone – the press, Democratic activists, the Republicans – being too preoccupied with other issues to demand clarity on marriage. And it was working well enough until Biden’s “Meet the Press” appearance, which forced the White House’s deliberations into the open. Now that the world is paying such close attention, Obama will sounds like nothing more than a slippery, timid politician if he continues with his “evolving” bit.

If Obama does officially change his position today, the timing will be a bit awkward, since North Carolina – a state the president won in 2008 – just overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and same-sex partnerships. This is exactly why Obama and his team have been so reluctant to take a firm position on the issue. While it’s true there is now plurality and even narrow majority support for gay marriage at the national level, that support is not evenly distributed across the country. Voters in many battleground states would likely approve an amendment just like the one that passed in North Carolina.

That said, candidates whose views are at odds with the electorate on an issue or two routinely win elections anyway. A lot of swing voters in a lot of swing states won’t share his position, but if Obama does come out for gay marriage, they might at least respect him for taking a stand.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>