Monday, October 12, 2009


John Harwood went on CNBC yesterday and, in the context of a discussion of the gay-rights march, said that "the White House views this opposition as really part of the 'internet left fringe.'" We've since heard from a White House spokesman that that's not really the administration's attitude toward gay-rights activists or lefty bloggers, and Harwood has said that the quote is accurate but was a reference to lefty bloggers rather than gay activists.

I'm seeing this as a very deliberate self-contradiction two-step.

I saw the Bush White House do something like this back in 2004. There was a tough presidential race that year, and days before the Republicans were about to hold a convention in which they were going to fire up the base, very much including the religious-right base, Dick Cheney went out and said he personally supported allowing states to legalize gay marriage. That was clearly an attempt to mollify moderates without alienating fundamentalists -- the president still supported banning gay marriage altogether, as did the party platform, but soccer moms heard a different message.

The deliberate muddying of the message was the message.

That's what's going on now. Obama reached out to the gay community -- and yet he wants to be seen as not being tight with gays or the angrier lefties. So a friendly journalist leaked this remark -- this deniable remark -- which has since been, um, denied. And now the message is muddied. The mixed signals are meant, I think, to confuse supporters of gay rights and wavering but potentially Democratic-voting non-liberal voters (including non-white social conservatives) in, oh, say, New Jersey and Virginia.

Did I say "friendly journalist"? Yeah -- John Harwood seems quite close to the Obama White House. He's interviewed Obama a number of times during the campaign and presidency. I don't believe he'd have messed up his extraordinary access to the president by delivering a message the White House didn't want delivered.

But, as I say, it's a message the White House also wanted to deny. So it was made deniable.

I think most White Houses do things like this. That doesn't make them any less ugly.

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