It seems to be in the nature of Barack Obama to see all the nuances. He has a mind that seeks out the views of the other side, and he is constitutionally inclined toward compromise.
These are admirable qualities in a human being. But sometimes you want a guy like Joe Biden. The Vice President has had a long career in politics marked by bluntness and blunders. He's the gaffer-in-chief. (In his own brief run for president in 2008 Biden raised eyebrows for complimenting candidate Obama for being "clean.") Sometimes the man puts his foot in his mouth, but sometimes he puts his foot across the finish line.
That's what Biden has done for us with gay marriage. His apparently uncalculated "misstep" a week ago forced the president by Wednesday afternoon to declare that his long "evolving" views on the subject had come to rest on the side of simple justice. The President of the United States had at long last come down on the side of what was right.
I never understood the president's political calculation on this one. Anyone who would vote against him because he came out in favor of gay marriage would vote against him anyway for any of a dozen other reasons. And his tepid statements about his "evolving" views were pretty much telegraphing his true position anyway, while at the same time frustrating his base supporters.
He has to feel liberated now. Liberals are falling back in love with him. I have to say I felt energized when I heard the news myself.
Maybe this will give this most cautious of men the idea that it feels good to just come out and say what you believe. Maybe we'll get the long-promised gun control legislation that the president talked about after the Gabby Giffords massacre. Maybe we'll see some tough Wall Street reforms, especially now after JP Morgan Chase incinerated $2 billion on another bad bet. Maybe we'll start talking about global climate change again, the most serious threat to the planet whose very name has apparently been banned from White House conversation. Maybe we'll even get an urban policy.
I understand that responsible leaders can't always get out too far ahead of their constituents. It's an art to know when to hit the gas and when to touch the brakes. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said that the long arc of history bends toward justice.
Only 15 years ago, only one in four Americans supported same sex marriage. Today it's almost half, and the numbers among young Americans are overwhelmingly in favor. Interracial marriage was supported by only 59% in 1972, but 90% of us accept it today. In 1978 only 76% of Americans said they would vote for a black president. Today it' 95%. In 1937, only 33% said they would vote for a woman for president. Today it's 96%. And a majority of Americans now oppose the death penalty.
History is on the side of progress, but history is rarely made by cautious people. We're lucky that President Obama has Joe Biden there to say the wrong thing at the right time for the right reasons.