Vice President Joe Biden has had the pleasure being the administration’s herald of good things to come in the Barack Obama presidency. In 2010, he foretold the end of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on CNN’s Larry King Live. In 2011, he proclaimed the inevitability of same-sex marriage. And in 2012, the news media are reporting that he declared the endorsement of same-sex marriage and is “absolutely comfortable” with it.
But further inspection suggests that “endorsement” and “absolutely comfortable” might be a wee bit too grand for describing what it is Biden said Sunday about same-sex marriage.
In an appearance on “Meet the Press,” Biden performed his role with, well, not with the decisiveness of the court’s herald who explicitly declares the king’s will, not with the witty boldness of a court jester who taunts out the truth and uses humor to deflect any vitriolic responses heading the king’s way, but with the reluctant bumble of the court’s food taster, pushing the truth around his plate and hoping it doesn’t prove to be a fatally bitter pill for the king’s proxy.
Biden’s role is to offer a taste of the administration’s message to ease the peasantry toward the desired thinking. And if it turns out the taste was poorly timed, if the populace responds with pitchforks and fear, the administration has plausible deniability, because, you know, it’s just another Biden “foot pas” and his gaffe will eventually trip out of the public consciousness.
And how he did he do on this one?
The show’s moderator, David Gregory, reminded the VP (in case he had forgotten) that, like President Obama, Biden is opposed to same-sex marriage, but that the president indicated his views were evolving. Then Gregory asked a gently lobbed question:
Gregory: Have your views evolved?
Biden: Look, I just think that ah, that ah, the good news is that, as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about, it’s a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what, what all marriages at their root are about, whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.
Gregory: Is that what you believe now?
Biden: That’s what I believe.
OK, we’ve established that Biden believes same-sex marriage, like any other, is about love. Nice, but next?
Gregory: And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?
Biden: I, look, I am vice president of the Unites States of America. Um, the president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying one another 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.
“Civil” being the key word in this response, Biden allowed room for the administration to retreat to “civil unions,” if public response to his tentative foray into same-sex marriage advocacy turns too nasty. (And wasn’t it helpful of him to remind us of the office he holds, in case we’d forgotten.)
Gregory: In the second term, will this administration come out behind same-sex marriage, the institution of marriage?
Biden: Well, I, I, I can’t speak to that. I, I, I, I, I don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you—.
Having posed the explicit question we’re all asking, Gregory sent Biden into a verbal fanny p-, p-, p-, pucker.
Gregory: it sounds like you’d like to see it happen, if that’s what the president—.
Biden: Well, the president continues to fight whether it’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or whether it is making sure across the board that you cannot discriminate. Look at the executive orders he’s put in place. Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can’t deny a partner from being able to have access to their partners, ill, or making the call on whether or not they, you know, it, it just—. This is evolving, and by the way, my measure David — and I take a look at when things really began to change — is when the social culture changes. I think “Will and Grace” probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far. And I think people fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand. They’re beginning to understand. …
So, do we understand what it is Biden actually said about his or the administration’s position on same-sex marriage? Is he saying that he is kind of all for it — if enough of the rest of us are — but it’s the president’s job to make it happen — if enough of us want him to?
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter what words tripped out of Biden’s mouth. We the peasantry will define what he said with our responses. And they with the most plentiful, articulate comments win. Let the world know that you are “absolutely comfortable” enough with same-sex marriage to publicly proclaim it in a proper sentence. The administration might be counting on us.
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at [email protected].