Sometimes the job of the vice president, other than to have a pulse, is to say what the president is thinking without saying that that’s what he’s thinking and saying it out loud. He’s his id, so to speak; unvarnishing the language on a position and putting it out there but giving the president a layer of cover so that if the vice president went too far, the White House could always distance themselves from it but you knew that it had the full approval of the Oval Office. Spiro Agnew did that for Richard Nixon when he went after the long-haired hippies in the 1970’s, Dick Cheney did his Darth Vader number for George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle…well, okay, other than taking on a fictional TV character, he never did much.
So I’m thinking that’s what Joe Biden was doing when he went on Meet the Press yesterday and said that he’s “comfortable” with marriage equality.
GREGORY: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?
BIDEN: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women 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. […] I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that is different and now they’re beginning to understand.
President Obama is famously on the record as saying that his views on the issue are “evolving,” but he’s not ready to endorse it completely. So if this is the White House and the Obama campaign sending up a trial balloon that the president is now ready to endorse same-sex marriage, Joe Biden was the one to float it.
The campaign and White House tweeted to try to walk this back a little, saying that what Mr. Biden was really saying was that all married couples deserve the same rights. There’s a difference between endorsing marriage equality and equal rights for all couples: neither Mr. Biden nor the president are actually encouraging states and the federal government to pass legislation to provide equality. They’re letting it evolve in places like Maryland and Washington state. That way they don’t have to take the rap if it doesn’t pass or gets recalled. That also explains their passive approach to DOMA; not defending it in court is not the same as actively trying to repeal that turd of a law.
So why not just come right out and say that they now support same-sex marriage? It’s not like President Obama is going to lose any votes among the crowd that is against marriage equality in the first place; hell, they’ve already made up their minds to hate him on so many other issues that same-sex marriage is a freebie. And in the face of states like North Carolina coming up with such broad-brush approaches to the issue that any form of domestic partnership is out, it would really help if the president stood up and said that Amendment One is way too much. In that case he’d be joining some Republicans on that score.
I hope that getting Joe Biden to support marriage equality on Meet the Press is one more stage of evolution. The next step is for the president to say it out loud.