Obama & Gay Marriage: 'Courageous' Or Put Into A Corner?; Happy 300th Podcast!

President Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America in the White House on May 9. During the interview, Obama expressed his support for gay marriage, a first for a U.S. president. i i

hide captionPresident Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America in the White House on May 9. During the interview, Obama expressed his support for gay marriage, a first for a U.S. president.

The White House/Getty Images
President Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America in the White House on May 9. During the interview, Obama expressed his support for gay marriage, a first for a U.S. president.

President Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America in the White House on May 9. During the interview, Obama expressed his support for gay marriage, a first for a U.S. president.

The White House/Getty Images

The issue of same-sex marriage will long continue to fascinate and infuriate politics watchers everywhere, but this past week was especially impossible to ignore, starting last Sunday, with Vice President Biden's candid statement on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is "absolutely comfortable" with it, through the Administration's torturous couple of days of attempting to "clarify" Biden's remarks, and culminating on Wednesday's interview for ABC's "Good Morning America, where President Obama "evolved" into embracing gay marriage once and for all.

A dizzying week, to be sure.

But the most head-spinning part of it all was the conclusion by his defenders that Obama made a courageous, breathtaking and historic decision, coming to his position through conscience and not politics. And certainly not because his vice president boxed him into a corner.

To be sure, there is the element of history here; he is the first president to support gay marriage, and that is important in the scheme of things. It comes as a majority of the American people, according to some polls, have already reached that view. But with the president saying that this reflected only his own personal views, and that he supports individual states making their own decisions, what changes? Little, if anything.

Further, to profess surprise about Obama's announcement is silly, given the fact that the administration has made its position long known, repealing the "don't ask/don't tell" policy about gays in the military and ending its support of the Defense of Marriage Act (or, as Obama called it during the GMA interview, "Defense Against Marriage Act"). The surprise is less that he came out for gay marriage than the fact he continued to stick to his position when so many others in his party had long ago abandoned that viewpoint.

And so, after years of watching his position "evolve" but not move, what shall we call his new announcement? Courageous? Or was he put into a no-win position? How about a flip-flop? We always love to point out the discrepancies between Mitt Romney's positions of today, compared to when he was running in Massachusetts for the Senate in 1994 or even governor in 2002. With Obama, we only have to go back to 2008, when he told us he was opposed to same-sex marriage (something he also told us when he was running for the Senate in 2004). Is this not a flip-flop? Is Obama getting away with something that no one seems to let Romney get away with?

In the long run, the three days it took Obama to get from Biden's "absolutely comfortable" to his own "it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married" is not likely to be of consequence, let alone be remembered.

But let's not call Obama's path to his announcement an example of profiles in courage, considering it only came when Biden forced his hand. Media reports indicate Obama was furious with his vice president in getting ahead of the White House on the issue. It's easy to conclude that the president would have been very happy to not have to deal with his "evolving" position until after the November election.

But such a "hiding the ball" strategy would have been dishonest, wrote Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post. The day before the president announced the change in his position, Marcus said the "continued presidential equivocation makes Obama look weak and evasive":

"The longer Obama waits, the worse he looks.

The president's first stall tactic, that he is "evolving" on the issue, doesn't cut it anymore. Even Darwin would have lost patience by now.

His second approach, the not-gonna-make-news-for-you-today cop-out, has also worn thin. ...

At this point, Obama's reticence is looking cowardly."

Similarly, Frank Bruni of the New York Times wrote:

"On this issue, the president isn't leading. He's following. And the gap by which he trails others in his party grows broader and sadder."

But already that's old news. Obama, after expressing his displeasure with Biden's candidness, has come on board. And the political community has gone on to other topics, such as whether Obama's declaration will invigorate the gay community for November or hurt him in swing states or with independents and moderates and African-Americans and Hispanics. Or whether it will force social conservatives to ignore Romney's imperfect record and embrace the Republican's candidacy. Will Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decide to bring a vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act to the floor? And what about those Democrats in tough Senate races this year, such as Tim Kaine in Virginia? Will Obama's announcement affect their chances?

For all the evolving the nation seems to be doing on same-sex marriage, let's not forget that every time the issue has been on the ballot, it has gone down to defeat. (As recently as last week, voters in North Carolina — home to the 2012 Democratic convention — overwhelmingly supported a ban on both gay marriage and civil unions). Thirty-eight states now are on record opposing same-sex marriage, either by constitutional amendment or statute. The six states (and the District of Columbia) that do have gay marriage on the books — Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut — arrived at that conclusion via state legislatures or the courts. Not by the voters.

In any event, the national debate over the issue is certain to continue. It's important to understand where our country is going and how it gets there. But it's also important to know how the president of the United States got there as well.

Gay & lesbian votes normally go to Democratic candidates, reaching a high of 80% in 2008.

hide captionGay & lesbian votes normally go to Democratic candidates, reaching a high of 80% in 2008.

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Sixty years ago. The defeat of Sen. Dick Lugar in last week's Indiana Republican primary was not a surprise, but the margin sure was; state Treasurer Richard Mourdock clobbered him 60-39 percent. (See May 7 Political Junkie column.) The last time a six-term senator was denied renomination in the primaries was in 1952, when Tennessee Democrat Kenneth McKellar was ousted by Congressman Albert Gore Sr.

And speaking of history, flabbergasted may be the best word to explain the 41 percent of the vote a Texas prison inmate, Keith Judd, received last week against President Obama in the West Virginia Democratic primary. No one disputes the fact that Obama has never been popular in the Mountain State. Hillary Clinton defeated him by 41 points in the 2008 primary, and he lost the state in November that year to John McCain by 13. And it's true, incumbent presidents have done worse in the past — Jimmy Carter lost ten primaries to Ted Kennedy in 1980. But never before has an incumbent running essentially "unopposed," as Obama is this year, performed so poorly in a presidential primary.

Anticipating this week's 300th podcast. Back in 2006, Ron Elving, NPR's Senior Washington editor, and I started recording a weekly podcast, called "It's All Politics." We do this every Thursday, and thousands and thousands of people — whom we call "The Listener" — download it each week. This Thursday, we are recording our 300th episode. In terms of numbers, it doesn't approach Herman Cain's 999, but it certainly beats out Rick Perry's three, I mean two, departments he would eliminate.

Last week we asked you to tell us about some of your favorite moments. Here's a brief sampling of what arrived in my in-box.

Andrew Azab:

My favorite opening to the podcast was your intro on one of the weeks where Blago [Rod Blagojevich] was in the news and you and Ron had an expletive- ridden exchange. Bleeping on NPR ... priceless.

Kevin White:

My favorite moment by far of the last year was the comment about Newt Gingrich not being able to win the election one woman at a time. I found that moment to be particularly hilarious. The most entertaining political moment of the last year was Rick Perry's debate gaffe. The most interesting was the congressional deadlock over the Social Security tax cuts.

Alex Zwagerman:

I am a devoted listener to the podcast. I live in the People's Republic of China, where politics is much more opaque. It may surprise you that the It's All Politics Podcast is almost never blocked in China. I say almost... Apart from the times that NPR is blocked as a whole domain, it happened only ONCE on the past five years that the specific podcast was blocked. This was in 2009. I don't remember the exact week, but I was first irritated and then fascinated by the specific and short-lived block. I used a proxy to 'jump over the Great Chinese Firewall' and had to listen to the podcast twice to find the reason of the block. It turned out that Ken (I think) used the verb 'to shanghai' to express how a certain Senator was forced to tow some party line. I know it's not really a moment that you guys brought me, and the fact that I enjoyed that podcast has more to do with the ridiculous behavior of the Chinese Censors, but it was MY moment. Keep up the good work! I spend so much time explaining your puns to my Chinese girlfriend, our life would be so boring if you guys ever quit. Kind regards from Changchun, China.

Joseph Bowler:

My favorite moments of your podcast is the overall theme of neutrality, because it really is all politics. I'm a center right American (how cliche, I know) and the most legitimate news that I find in American politics, outside BBC, comes from your podcast! Keep it up, if one of you passes away, we better have a weekly seance or at least haunt the studio.

Mary Miller:

Ron and Ken (if I may be so informal, since I am The Listener and you may call me "The"): Congratulations on this milestone; gosh, I thought it was at least 600 or so. Time flies. I can't name a particular moment that stood out above all others, but I do find each week's podcast reassuring. No matter how many problems we have as a country and how deep the political dross, as long as we can laugh at ourselves while sorting out what's important, we'll be OK. And every week, you two reaffirm that principle. Keep it up, and thanks from Greenwood, Miss.

Andrea Sahlin:

I liked the "leave of abscess" pun in the 5/10/2012 podcast. I have had a toothache for about a week now, and that made me laugh!

Aaron Page:

Congratulations on 300 podcasts! I'm a 26 year old Democrat living in Chicago and I'm from the great swing state of Virginia. I truly look forward to your podcast each week and greatly enjoy your insightful analyses. I listen to a lot of political commentary and I think you guys are the best out there. I also feel the podcast is as funny as it is informative. Your ending song choices always crack me up, and my favorite moment was when you played "Love Potion #9" and added Herman Cain's voice saying "9-9-9."

Sarah Soebbing:

It is I, the listener, writing to congratulate you on your upcoming 300th episode! Just wanted you to know how much I love your podcast, and to thank you for always helping me see how laughable our political system truly is.

Tristan Acker:

I think Ken and Ron make the best jokes about John Boehner crying. And Ken's puns are oddly endearing and I've been listening long enough that I often find them hilarious. Congrats on 300 episodes.

Chris Ryan:

My favorite It's All Politics moment was a joke Ken made on the show one time. He had borrowed it from someone else, and I believe the year was 1973.

Kim England:

I am a 22 year old restaurant assistant manager in Alameda, Calif. My favorite moments from It's All Politics happens every week when I'm listening to the podcast episode on Friday and laughing out loud while riding my bike to work. This happens more often than once a week, more like once every 4-5 minutes an episode, but it's a great feeling and I love that Ken & Ron can release such endorphins with such finesse. Thanks IAP team! You guys are great!

Robert Hirschman:

I love your program, your so-so-well articulated descriptions of events and points of view, and insights.

Tim O'Connor:

I humbly submit that I must be "The Listener" because I never miss an episode of the It's All Politics Podcast. My favorite podcast moment was Ken nicknaming Buddy Roemer "Nature Boy." We professional wrestling / politics fans (both of us) really got a kick out of this. Much legitimate LOLing.

Kim Wright:

I find it very annoying when people say, "It's impossible to choose my favorite because it's like asking to choose my favorite child." That excuse is used to the point it's lost all its meaning. So, when Ken and Ron asked their listener to choose a favorite podcast as they celebrate their upcoming 300th "It's All Politics" podcast, I can say, in all honesty, it's almost impossible to choose because it's like choosing my favorite child. With that said, my choice is the Sept. 18, 2008 podcast, because it's the first after Wall Street took a tremendous free fall, marking the beginning of what turned out to be the global economic recession, and attention was taken from Sarah Palin as John McCain's presidential running mate. It's also where we heard John McCain change from "The economy is fundamentally sound.", to "...greed on Wall Street has put our economy at risk.", almost exactly two hours later.

Eric Vanhove:

The time that Ken told the joke about Abe Lincoln being Jewish... because he got shot in the temple! Ba dum dum. And Ken, Ron, and I laughed hysterically! I'm sure it was just the 3 of us. I still laugh about that... and can't count the number of times I've retold that joke! Love your podcast!

Kelly Pierce:

Happy 300th podcast! I'm a 27 year old History teacher currently living and working at an international school in Tanzania. I've been reliant on various podcasts to keep up on my current events, including It's All Politics, and while I don't have a specific moment that springs to mind to commemorate your 300th episode, I will share an incident that I think is indicative of the enjoyment, entertainment, and inherent risk that I find in each one of your podcasts. One day, I went out running while listening to your podcast and my route takes me over a very bumpy, uneven road. There was something that both of you were talking about that elicited a guffaw of laughter from me, and unfortunately it was so distracting that I forgot to look down at my feet and bam, fell flat on my ass. I thought you should know that your podcast has at least one laughter casualty. I thank both of you for your witty banter, keen political observations, and entertaining delivery. Congratulations on 300.

Valerie Wayne:

Congrats on 300 podcasts! I'm obsessed with politics, a habit I can't truly indulge because I'm home with three young children. I eagerly await and then listen to your podcast a few times each week. As for a favorite moment, even just last week you showed your humble humor in discussing the Judd 41% in West Virginia, my home state. Rather than being righteously indignant about the racism we so painfully clearly suffer, you were insightful and funny. Thanks from one of your MANY grateful listeners!!

Jonathan Blau:

I love every Firesign Theatre reference!

David Meiklejohn:

I am the Australian listener. Have been listening for the past 5 years from here in Melbourne. Great weekly wrap of US politics apart from Ken's jokes, obviously. My favorite moment was way back in early 2008, you guys were discussing potential veep picks for McCain and you brought up the name of "Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin", who I'd never heard of until that moment. I like to think this was a butterfly fluttering its wings moment which led to the tumult of November for McCain and his campaign.

Taskin Sehitoglu:

I wish to congratulate you on your 300th episode. As probably the only high school senior who enjoys Thad McCotter jokes, I think your show is both hilarious and informative. I especially enjoyed your most recent coverage of the Republican primary. I hope you continue the show, even as you lose relevancy like an aging Newt Gingrich. Jokes aside, please keep up the great reporting and commentary.

Neil Gussman:

I discovered your podcast while I was deployed to Iraq with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, PA National Guard in 2009/10. We had a dial-up-speed connection so it took 45 minutes to download. We deployed shortly after President Obama was elected. Sometimes I was sure I was the only white male Obama voter on our Air base, named Camp Adder. You helped me stay informed in a place where most of the news was from FOX.

Thanks to all who wrote. And thanks for being The Listener.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week focused on same-sex marriage, starting with the unexpected Joe Biden conversation on the topic and ending with President Obama's dilemma. Plus, a review of Tuesday's primaries, focusing on Dick Lugar's defeat in Indiana and the Democratic primary in Wisconsin to find a challenger to a recall-imperiled Scott Walker.

Shortly after the program ended, Obama evolved into an interview with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts. And so we interrupted TOTN in the second hour with this update.

TOTN update on Obama/gay marriage

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me.

last week's podcast

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last week's podcast

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Monday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!

Previous winner: Joe Berendt of St. Louis, Mo.

ON THE CALENDAR:

May 15 — Primaries in Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon.

May 18 — Filing deadline in Washington State. Just in case lame duck Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is thinking about it.

May 22 — Primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky.

May 29 — Texas primary.

June 5 —Wisconsin gov. recall election. Also: primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

June 12 — Special election in Arizona's 8th CD to succeed Gabrielle Giffords (D), who resigned. Also: congressional primaries in Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia.

June 26 — Congressional primaries in Colorado, New York, Oklahoma and Utah.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

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This day in campaign history: Making his first bid for public office, investment banker Chuck Hagel easily wins the Republican nomination for the Senate from Nebraska, defeating state Attorney General Don Stenberg by a 62-38 percent margin. It is for the seat Democrat Jim Exon is giving up after three terms. On the Democratic side, Gov. Ben Nelson ran unopposed. Also, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in West Virginia, former state Sen. Charlotte Pritt wins an 11-candidate contest, narrowly defeating her closest challenger, state Sen. Joe Manchin. The Republican nomination goes to Cecil Underwood, who was the state's youngest governor (34 years old) when he was elected in 1956 and would be the state's oldest (74) if he wins this year (May 14, 1996). Both Hagel (R-Neb.) and Underwood (R-W.Va.) will win in November.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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