Big policy changes don't just pop out of the president's mouth, like Athena springing full-grown from the forehead of Zeus.
They're more like a space shuttle inching toward the launch pad, guided by experts. A perfect political "rollout" is like the big con in the classic film, "The Sting." At the end, the dupe doesn't even know he's been had.
So giving President Obama an issue like gay marriage last week was like handing Itzak Perlman a Stradivarius. He played it perfectly.
That Obama supports gay marriage was news only to those not paying attention. This is the president who refused to defend the federal "Defense of Marriage Act," who ended the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and whose administration sides with those challenging California's Amendment 8 gay-marriage ban. Even in making his big announcement, Obama said he'd planned to do it closer to the Democratic National Convention this summer.
We're asked to believe that the White House hastily arranged a softball interview with ABC's fawning Robin Roberts because Vice President Joe Biden tipped his own support on "Meet the Press" three days earlier. Given Biden's reputation, that's plausible. But on Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan – a Chicago pal of Obama's – also had said he favors gay marriage, and Caroline Kennedy, co-chair of his re-election committee, called for a marriage plank when the Democratic platform is adopted in Charlotte, N.C.
Speaking of Tar Heels, the White House and the Obama campaign surely knew that state would pass – by 61 percent, it turned out – a constitutional ban on same-sex unions. So the president's position can only mean he expects to lose North Carolina, which he barely won in 2008.
Next, the White House leaked information that Biden apologized to Obama for upstaging him, providing fodder for another news cycle. Also on Wednesday came interviews with Obama campaign aides and congressional allies praising his position, but fretting it will hurt him among black voters – citing polls that show blacks disapprove of gay marriage.
Oh, yeah, big risk there – like, goodbye 98 percent of the black vote, hello 97.1 percent.
On Thursday, it was time to talk about Obama jetting to Hollywood for a $15-million fund-raising reception. The easy story peg was that the entertainment world's political parvenus wouldn't write checks to a president who wasn't cool on sex and civil rights.
A spinoff effect was to make Mitt Romney fumble for polite ways to restate his belief in heterosexual marriage – bringing forth old videotapes of his 1994 U.S. Senate race, when he promised to out-do the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in serving gay citizens. Then we learned that about 45 years ago, an 18-year-old Romney and his pals had viciously bullied a classmate, whom they may have believed was gay, at a snooty Michigan prep school.
Aside from the gay angle, that story had the side effect of reminding everybody that Romney is a rich preppie (on a day that Obama was learning the concerns of regular working folks at George Clooney's house.)
Meanwhile, virtually no one noticed that Obama said, correctly, that marriage is not a federal issue. Or that he did not say he will ask Congress to make federal contractors extend insurance and other "domestic partner" benefits to unmarried couples, gay or not.
Marriage was certain to come up in the presidential debates anyway. But this masterful rollout tees it up early enough that it won't be the buzz of political conversation next October, when undecided voters begin making up their minds.