Voting present on gay marriage?

Now that the New York legislature (and electorate) has taken the lead on gay marriage, Dana Milbank wonders what happened to the supposedly progressive leader in the White House.  Milbank scoffs at the “evolving” excuse continued to be offered at the White House, and says that Barack Obama has failed to provide leadership — and notes that this seems to be a theme in this administration:

For Obama, this is less about the issue than about leadership. Even if he backed gay marriage, it wouldn’t become legal without Congress rewriting the federal definition of marriage, which currently demands “a legal union between one man and one woman.” But if Obama really believes, as he says, that a class of Americans is suffering unconstitutional discrimination, you’d think he would take a stand as a matter of principle. Instead, to borrow a phrase one of his advisers applied to the administration’s Libya policy, the president is once again “leading from behind.”

On the eve of the vote in New York, Obama was heckled by an audience of gay New Yorkers when he again declined to endorse gay marriage. He further infuriated listeners with his observation that “traditionally marriage has been decided by the states” — a position that would leave unchallenged the 41 states that ban same-sex marriage.

Days before that, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer was booed at a blogger conference when he asserted: “The president has never favored same-sex marriage. He is against it. The country is evolving on this, and he is evolving on it.” More like devolving: Pfeiffer claimed that a 1996 questionnaire, which has Obama’s signature and states his support for same-sex marriage, was “filled out by someone else.”

Well, isn’t that news!  Who would have guessed that the state legislator who voted “present” more than 130 times rather than cast tough votes on controversial issues would “lead from behind” as an executive?

It’s not just the President who wants to keep his views on gay marriage in the closet.  Milbank points out that Hillary Clinton has argued that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and even celebrated the “especially momentous and extraordinary” vote in New York.  So has she changed her position on gay marriage, which she previously opposed?  Her last word on the subject came in an interview with The Advocate, in which Clinton stated that “I have not changed my position.”

What about Michelle Obama?  Disgraced former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey told CNN that Obama should “listen to Michelle more often” on gay marriage, which prompted this quick denial from the First Lady’s staff:

First lady Michelle Obama’s office on Tuesday quickly shot down the suggestion that she has ever publicly voiced support for same-sex marriage, a policy her husband opposes even as the left pressures him to take a stand.

“Mrs. Obama has never made any public statements about same-sex marriage,” her communications director, Kristina Schake, said in an email to POLITICO.

At first, I suspected that the Obamas intended on keeping quiet about support for same-sex marriage until a reversal could do them the most good.  At this point, a reversal won’t cost them many votes among the base; black voters continue to oppose it, even in New York, but it’s not going to be a deal-breaker that moves them to the GOP column.  A summer 2012 reversal could help stoke a resurgence of enthusiasm on the progressive Left and generate some badly-needed momentum for a general election.  That was the only real reason for a repeated insistence that Obama’s thoughts were “evolving” on the issue.

However, Milbank’s column shows how weak that strategy will be.  Endorsing a decision a full year later isn’t leadership — it’s pandering, and not terribly effective pandering at that.  If Obama really opposes same-sex marriage, then he should be explaining that position and challenging those who disagree with him, whether it’s on the basis of tradition, federalism, or dice tosses.  Instead, all the White House has managed to provide are mumbles about evolution and zero leadership in any direction, which is a pretty good description of the entire Obama presidency.  Milbank just seems to have figured it out now.

Addendum: Jennifer Epstein of Politico needs to do better research.  In her article on the First Lady’s response to McGreevey, she offers this background on his departure:

McGreevey, who is now openly gay, gave up the governorship in 2004 after revealing that he’d had an affair with a man.

That’s kind of like saying that Richard Nixon gave up the presidency in 1974 after revealing that he’d bought a tape recorder.  The affair wasn’t the cause of the resignation; McGreevey resigned because he’d appointed his boyfriend to the post of Homeland Security chief for the state, despite the fact that the man was a foreign citizen and he had no relevant experience for the position.  McGreevey resigned after the man threatened a sexual-harassment suit against him.  McGreevey then came out as gay — with his wife and kids on stage with him — and pretended that he had to quit because of his sexual orientation.

Oh, and here’s one more relevant note that Epstein did include:

McGreevey and Michelle Obama have never met.