Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed found himself in a debate on Wednesday afternoon's Talk of the Nation show on National Public Radio. The debate wasn't with a second guest. It was with TOTN host Neal Conan, who simply refused repeatedly to allow Reed to state that Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, have decided not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Conan couldn't abide the concept that the Justice Department was failing to defend federal law as it currently stands.
The fight began when Reed was asked about Gov. Mitch Daniels, who annoyed social conservatives by saying there should be a "truce" on social issues in the Republican presidential debate:
RALPH REED: Well, I don't really have any argument with Mitch Daniels. He's a friend. He's a great governor of Indiana. He's doing a terrific job in that state, and I think he'd be very qualified to be president. And I hope he - and I hope he runs. I really do. But the problem with the phrase truce is that by definition to have a truce, both sides have to agree to it. It's kind of hard to have a truce when you have the Obama administration, you know, saying that they're not going to defend marriage in the federal court, which they recently said with regard to the Defense of Marriage Act.
NEAL CONAN: That's not quite what they said. They said they wouldn't defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts because that would get it before the Supreme Court, which would then decide the case.
REED: Well, but they won't defend a federal law, which they are legally obligated to defend.
CONAN: Again, that's not quite what they said, Mr. Reed. They said they would not defend it when the case came before the Supreme Court. They would, of course, continue to enforce the law, because it's the law.
REED: No, no, that's not accurate.
CONAN: I think it is.
REED: It went beyond that.
CONAN: Let's agree to disagree on that and move on. I think I'm right on that.
REED: The Justice Department went beyond that and said that they did not believe the law deserved to be defended. And this was a law that was passed by a bipartisan supermajority in the House and the Senate and was signed into law by a Democratic president.
CONAN: And again, in the Supreme Court is what they meant, and let's agree to disagree on that, and I'll turn you over to Ken [Rudin, the NPR political director], who will ask a nicer question.
REED: The law is on appeal to the Supreme Court.
There's a bit of talking past each other on this. Reed was making a political point: you can't make a truce on social issues when the Obama people are pushing the gay-left agenda. Conan then tried to counter-argue with a technical point of what Holder said -- as opposed to acknowledging Obama's pandering to social liberals. To assess this battle, let's consult the actual text of the Attorney General's announcement on February 23:
The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.
Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.
At National Review, legal blogger Ed Whelan argues that the very point Conan was defending is incoherent:
Holder says that the Obama administration “will continue to enforce” DOMA. But it is logically incoherent for the Obama administration to refuse to defend DOMA on the ground that it’s clearly unconstitutional and to continue to enforce it. The obvious explanation for this incoherence is political: Obama doesn’t have the guts to take the political heat for not enforcing DOMA, but he’s hoping that his refusal to defend it will lead to court rulings that he can hide behind.