When Vice President Joe Biden said he supported gay marriage on Meet the Press Sunday, was it a Kinsley gaffe -- as in, did Biden accidentally say what he really thinks? Or did the White House only try to make it seem like an accident? Or was the White House trying to make it look like a fake accident? Oh, White House, we don't know on what level you're messing with our heads. But it's hard to imagine the administration is too upset with Biden, given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan nonchalantly backed gay marriage on MSNBC Monday morning.
Evidence it was an accident:
- Biden has a history of accidents. During the 2008 primary, his comment that Obama was "clean" and "articulate" had uncomfortable racial overtones. He recently launched a thousand dick jokes when he said that Obama, like Teddy Roosevelt, walked softly and carried a big stick.
- Biden's office clarified his statement. The New York Times said the White House was "scrambling" to clarify Biden's comments, reporting aides explained they were "off-the-cuff views of a vice president not known for fidelity to a script." But the scrambling seems pretty organized. All media organizations are quoting the same statement, from an anonymous aide, that doesn't walk back Biden's comments all that much:
"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, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights. That's why we stopped defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges and support legislation to repeal it. Beyond that, the vice president was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country."
- Biden wants to run for president in 2016, Salon's Steve Kornacki points out. Obama will be the last Democratic president who hedges at all on the issue, he says.
Evidence it was accidentally on purpose:
- Other Cabinet officials and prominent Democrats agree. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he supported gay marriage Monday, the day after Biden's comments, on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "Have you ever said that publicly before?" a panelist asked. "I don't know that I've ever been asked publicly," Duncan responded. In November, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said he "absolutely" supported gay marriage, and he did not get in trouble with the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last year that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," the Times notes. Former President Bill Clinton has cut a radio ad urging North Carolinians not to vote for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the Associated Press reports. The ad airs Monday.
- The White House didn't really walk back from the comments that much. In addition to the mild statement from the aide, Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted, "What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS's position."
- Biden said gay marriage was inevitable in 2007 and 2010, BuzzFeed points out. He's had a lot of time to think of precise phrasing on the issue.
- And just like with the "war on women," it never hurts to stir up social conservatives. The Obama administration was widely criticized for what was seen as clumsy handling of its decision to require employers to cover birth control, even if those employers were affiliated with religions that oppose gay marriage. Then House Republicans held an all-male panel on contraception, and suddenly the administration was seen as genius.Biden's comments come just after social conservatives' complaints led to the resignation of Mitt Romney's gay spokesman. Biden's remarks have already provoked at least one decline-of-the-culture comment from the right.
- The wackiest thing he said is actually true. Biden cited the show Will & Grace as having done more than anything else to "educate" Americans that gay people are pretty much just like straight people. Studies have shown this is true: The factor that makes people most likely to support gay rights is knowing a gay person, and knowing a gay TV character is almost just as good.
Evidence you're supposed to know it's a fake accident:
- Interesting timing given that gay folks bring in the money. "They are so sensitive to Biden doing this because, number one, gay money in this election has replaced Wall Street money," NBC's Chuck Todd said Monday. And Politico's Maggie Haberman points out that the pro-gay marriage comments from Biden and Duncan come right before Obama's appearance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who successfully got gay marriage legalized in the state last year. Obama is visiting New York Tuesday.