Plouffe Plays Pretend

David Plouffe, the architect of President Obama’s two presidential campaign victories, is disputing the account in Jo Becker’s book of the president’s obviously fake “evolution” on marriage equality. Andrew Sullivan interviewed him on it, but is anyone naive enough to believe this?

AS: Becker’s book argues that the president’s position seemed stalled on marriage equality in 2011 and 2012 and that he likely did not intend to evolve any further on marriage before his second term. Do you agree?

DP: Absolutely not. The President made a decision that he was ready to “fully evolve” and announce his support for marriage equality. As he put it, “If I get asked if I was still a state legislator in Illinois would I vote to recognize same sex marriages as New York State did, the answer will be yes.” So the only question was when and how to announce in 2012 he would be the first President to support marriage equality, not whether to.

AS: What were the major and minor influences that caused the president to embrace marriage equality when he did?

DP: His evolution was not contrived as some suggest, but real. He spoke powerfully to some of his reasons in the Robin Roberts interview, but also the decision not to defend DOMA was instrumental, as well as the increasing number of states that were recognizing marriage. However, his family and friends and the discussions they had were likely the single greatest influence. His ultimate support for marriage equality was arrived at in a way that while public, was not too dissimilar to the journey many of us in the country took. Also, the President believed his support for marriage equality could change the opinions of some in his electoral coalition – witness the striking change in support in the African-American community which was illustrated in the Maryland ballot initiative results in 2012.

Given the Democratic convention and the Debates, where this issue was sure to come up, and that he had personally decided to support marriage equality, the plan was to make sure the announcement was made by June…

AS: David Brooks argues today that judging from Becker’s book, this was a decision dominated by elite political strategists. Is that your recollection?

DP: Not all all.

Seriously, would anyone expect him to say anything else? He is one of those elite political strategists and he is the president’s right hand man, is it even conceivable that he would say anything that didn’t make this decision sound like one of pure principle rather than political calculation? All of this might be slightly more believable if not for one very inconvenient fact: Obama was for gay marriage before he was against it before he was for it again. When he first ran for the Illinois Senate, he filled out a questionnaire in which he said he was in favor of the right of gay people to get married. When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, the year that more than a dozen states passed laws banning same-sex marriage, he was suddenly against it. Then when the polls changed dramatically between 2004 and 2012, his position switched again.

If you can believe that all of this was a matter of genuine indecision and principle, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. I think anyone can see that Obama was fine with gay marriage from the start but he didn’t think he would take that position in presidential politics until the polls shifted in his favor, so he lied and pretended he was against it. Why this would surprise anyone who pays attention to politics is beyond me.

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  • Doubting Thomas

    So does this mean that all that Christian Crap he put out is just political posturing and he’s really one of us Atheists?

  • eric

    That first question and answer is a giant softball. Of course everyone expects that if Obama were just a state senator in 2014, his 2014 position would be pro-SSM. The real question is whether his con-SSM position in the early 2000s was sincere or not.

    Plouffe, you seem to be confusing “his most recent position is real” with “his most recent change in position was real.” We don’t doubt the former, we doubt the latter.

  • Loqi

    @Doubting Thomas

    He certainly turned up Christianity dial for political points, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that he was something like an Easter-and-Christmas-only type of Christian. Anything about what politicians truly believe behind their carefully crafted public images is pure speculation. And you know what happens to people who deal in pure speculation: they get a cable news show.

  • Modusoperandi

    Would you rather he stood up for SSM in 2008 and lost? How about 2012? How much better would a McCain/Palin or Romney/Munster adminstration have been on the subject (and related, like DADT repeal)?

  • jenny6833a

    @ modus: Yeah, he got elected and he’s supporting SSM. He got both jobs done.

  • a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Anyone who expects the first black man in America who got elected to the nation’s highest office to be a radical is smoking something. The bigots on the right have told us that Obama is their worst nightmare. I’m inclined to believe them. So, yes, he’s a politician. Yes, he counts. Yes, he sometimes leads from behind. No, he is not as liberal as I wish he were. However, the man did get re-elected, despite having the entire Rethuglican character assassination machine and a couple dozen billionaires throwing all the slander they could at him. I’ll take Obama until someone puts up a better candidate who can win.

  • vmanis1

    I think some people expect politicians to be some kind of superhuman beings who always act on principle, regardless of the consequences. Otto von Bismarck famously said that `politics is the art of the possible’: it involves attempting to satisfy mutually contradictory constituencies, not just in order to win elections, but to get anything done at all.

    Obama’s `evolution’ on marriage equality is pretty clearly an instance of kabuki. But the question of timing was not; LGBTs were quite angry with him in 2009-10 over his inaction (many said `the GayTM is now closed’); DADT repeal was a result of this anger. But would embracing marriage equality help or hurt his reelection campaign? That was definitely not certain (remember, this was before the tipping point was reached in public opinion).

    So, yes, there was an element of kabuki in Obama’s `evolution’. But it was also a basic element of politics: never get too far ahead of public opinion. It was only when it was fairly evident that a pro-marriage equality position would not harm him irrevocably that he felt it safe to `evolve’. Perhaps when human nature has evolved, politicians will simply do what is right all the time. But my experience is that you elect politicians that broadly share your values and priorities, and then you spend their entire time in office pushing them to do what they said.

    I am hoping that Obama will `evolve’ on issuing a non-discrimination executive order soon. If I were an American, I would be pestering him to do exactly that,

  • dingojack

    I’m furious over the so-called ‘evolution’ of Lincoln’s position on emancipation.

    We should go back to the status ante bellum, that’ll show him what we think of people who change there minds and cease being total dicks to other people!!!