In her new book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality, award-winning journalist Jo Becker claims that Vice President Joe Biden forced President Obama to support marriage equality when he voiced his own support in May 2012. Former senior White House adviser David Plouffe, however, disagrees.
In her book, the New York Times journalist said that Biden made comments on Meet the Press that were pro-gay marriage and “not privy to the chaos that erupted inside the West Wing after an emailed transcript of the interview landed in the inbox of the White House press team.”
According to Becker, Obama had been thinking about coming out for marriage equality for a while, and Ken Melhman, the former Republican National Committee chairman who is gay, told the president how to go about it. He said First Lady Michelle Obama should do so with him in an interview with Robin Roberts. Obama did speak with Roberts, however he did it alone, six months after Mehlman’s advice, and “only after Biden forced him,” according to Politico.
Plouffe says the book is inaccurate on more than one level.
While speaking to Andrew Sullivan, Plouffe said that Obama decided when and where he would come out for marriage equality on his own.
“Once he made the decisions, it was a settled debate,” Plouffe said. “All we did was help think through the timing and some of the questions that would arise from his statement. I understand the Becker book may give people that sense. It is decidedly inaccurate.”
Becker’s book has been harshly criticized by a plethora of civil rights enthusiasts, activists and reporters for “airbrushing several gay rights activists out of history.” Sullivan described the book as “distorted,” and “toxic and morally repellent,” in his review on The Dish.
Dan Savage called the story a “bulls–t ‘history’ of marriage equality movement,” on Twitter and said that “you can’t write Evan Wolfson, Andrew Sullivan & Mary Bonauto out of the marriage equality mvmnt-but Jo Becker tried.”
Plouffe claims that Obama’s “evolution was not contrived as some suggest, but real,” and though Biden’s comments were unplanned, they only slightly changed the timing of Obama’s statement.
“We were planning to do so within a week or two. So it might have sped it up by a matter of days, if that,” Plouffe said. “He was very calm about it. He understood that this would be a historic moment and years from now, if not months (which turned out to be the case for most) all that mattered would be the words he spoke, not the process to get there. I will confess to being exercised because this was a historic moment and I wanted that to be the focus, not why we were doing it or how the timing was forced. He was right, I was wrong.”
In an interview with Ronan Farrow Wednesday, Becker said that her book isn’t a “history of the entire gay movement” or “a history of the marriage equality movement.”
“But you don’t say this story of this case begins with Chad Griffin. I think the thing people are taking issue with is, at the very start of this book, you say this is how the revolution begins, then you point to 2008,” Farrow pressed. “And then you compare him to Rosa Parks…do you regret that comparison? Do you think that holds up to scrutiny?”
Yet, the book begins:
This is how a revolution begins. It begins when someone grows tired of standing idly by, waiting for history’s arc to bend toward justice and instead decides to give it a swift shove. It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the segregated South. And in this story it begins with a handsome, bespectacled, 35-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin(ph) in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.
In an interview with NPR, Becker justified her actions, saying: “The story that I’m telling in this book is the story of a group of people who decided to go to the Supreme Court, who decided to bring the issue of marriage to the Supreme Court, primarily the group that brought the challenge to California’s ban but also Edie Windsor, who brought a different challenge to a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages in states where it was already legal.”
Host Terry Gross asked Becker if she would write the first paragraph the same way again if given the chance for a do-over. “I would,” Becker answered.
Going back to the start, what does Obama’s team think about this retelling of gay rights history? Obama campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted: “I’m with @sullydish on ridic @Jo_Becker story. We stand on shoulders of giants who fought 4 decades. She seems to have forgotten them.”