Dana Milbank
Opinion writer May 9, 2012

President Obama’s long, tortuous metamorphosis on same-sex marriage finally reached its evolved state right in between stinky cheese and “General Hospital.”

Smoked out by his own vice president, Obama decided to come out of the closet on the issue to ABC News’s Robin Roberts, who rushed her scoop onto the air Wednesday afternoon during the closing minutes of “The Revolution,” ABC’s new talk show featuring a “stellar dream team of experts that will help complete transformations in all areas of life.”

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

Just before George Stephanopoulos and Diane Saywer broke in, “style guru” Tim Gunn was interviewing “celebrity trainer” Harley Pasternak about the scent of food.

“Harley, I understand that there’s a relationship between the smell of our food and how much of it we consume,” Gunn prompted.

“There’s a new study that showed that the stronger of a smell a food has, the less we’ll actually eat,” Pasternak affirmed.

Just as the celebrity trainer was saying, “I’m gonna have some smelly cheese,” the news team broke into “The Revolution” with word of Obama’s evolution.

“As I said, I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue,” the president said for the umpteenth time. ABC was so determined to trumpet its scoop that Obama was covered chin-deep by a Chyron topped with the words “ABC News Exclusive.” He detailed his thinking, from civil unions through “don’t ask, don’t tell,” before getting to the point: “I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In a sense, what Obama finally said during the ABC clip was the obvious conclusion to his intellectual wandering. Public opinion is shifting rapidly in that direction, and Wednesday’s statement will invigorate young voters and the Democratic base — including the one in six of Obama’s fundraising “bundlers” who are openly gay.

It’s tempting to label this as another case of Obama leading from behind. Political observers pretty much assumed that was his view, even before Vice President Biden forced his hand by articulating it himself on Sunday. And Obama didn’t commit to doing anything to advance same-sex marriage; he merely stated his view.

And yet, his statement required bravery. By taking sides on the highly divisive issue, he risks antagonizing swing voters, particularly in conservative-leaning states such as Virginia and North Carolina. He also puts himself at odds with the 30 states that constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.

Maybe Obama was inspired to sentimentality by his evening plans, hosting a Burt Bacharach concert at the White House, but he was unusually lyrical in the interview. “I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together,” he said. “I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained . . . because they’re not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”

In clips subsequently dribbled out by ABC News, Obama spoke about how his “change in perspective” was brought about by his daughters, who have friends who are the children of same-sex parents. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently,” he said. He directly challenged religious conservatives: “When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

Obama’s lofty thoughts were at odds with the haphazard way the big moment developed. While reporters awaited word, ABC signaled the gist of the news by coding the story on its Web site with the phrase “obama-sex-marriage-legal” in the URL. In the Twitterverse, reporters gossiped about whether ABC staffers had been ordered not to tweet before the interview aired. “Tweet tweet tweet tweet,” teased ABC’s Jake Tapper.

After finally delivering its scoop, and the obligatory promo of more to come on “World News” and “Good Morning America,” ABC returned viewers to “General Hospital.” In the soap opera, a woman in a hospital bed was being accused of hitting somebody over the head with a paperweight. She denied doing so.

“This wouldn’t be the first time you reinvented yourself,” the accuser said.

From “The Revolution,” to evolution, to reinvention: Politics imitates daytime TV, and vice versa.

danamilbank@washpost.com