Politics & Policy

Was Obama’s Gay-Marriage Stance a Noble Lie or Cynical Opportunism?

President Obama with senior advisor David Axelrod in 2009 (White House via Flickr)
Either way, the hope-and-change malarkey was a circus act.

This morning, at just a few minutes before 7 o’clock, the political casting shop at last found an actor to play Brutus. His name, surprisingly enough, was David Axelrod, and his weapon of choice was his new book — which, Time’s Zeke Miller noted, contains “a striking admission of political dishonesty from the keeper of the Obama flame.” And so it was that the Ides of March came a month or so earlier than usual. Et tu, David?

In the course of relating his many experiences at the White House, Miller confirms, Axelrod admits openly that President Obama “misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons.” “Obama,” he adds plainly and without nuance, “was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as [he] publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages.” In and of itself, Miller notes, this dishonesty is disappointing. But, for Obama in particular, it has deleterious consequences, prompting us as it does to call “into question the President’s stated embrace of a new kind of politics” and his promise “to be unlike other politicians who change their views to match the political winds.” Is it possible, one can see it asked between the lines, that the whole “hope and change” malarkey was a circus act?

Evidently, it was. And yet, as brazen as the confession may seem, one imagines that the president will pay no immediate price for his betrayal. Indeed, the more astute among us have known for years that this was coming. We knew that he was lying when he claimed that he opposed gay marriage personally. We knew that he was lying when he suggested that he had “evolved” on the matter. And we knew that he was lying when he maintained that the states were free to accept or to reject the redefinition of marriage as they saw fit. When, earlier this year, Obama suggested that there was, in fact, a constitutional right to gay marriage — and when he cast as bigots those who espouse the position he had ostensibly held until recently — nobody so much as blinked. Deep down, we already knew.

Soon, the excuses will start in earnest. Chief among them, one suspects, will be the claim that Obama was forced into his deceit by the stupidity of the American public, and that his behavior was therefore morally acceptable. Comparisons to Abraham Lincoln will abound, as will the dangerous insistence that to focus on the lie is petty given the subsequent recompense he offered. For their part, Obama’s more committed apologists will pretend that to object to his deception per se is to object to gay marriage per se, and they will cloak his chicanery in the heady language of progress and nobility. Before long, we will all drown in witless tu quoque arguments that are designed solely to distract and to damage. “All politicians lie,” we will be told. “Especially your favorites. Why not take the mote out of your own eye?”

In an important sense, those who advance this plague-on-all-their-houses argument will be correct. Politics is a dirty game, and treachery is a bipartisan pursuit. There are no angels in Washington, D.C. And yet, by acknowledging that President Obama is little more than a run-of-the-mill politico, his apologists will at last bring down the curtain on his sordid little act. We are talking about a man, remember, who ran for office pretending that he was different. With Obama in the White House, it was avowed, there would be no partisanship or dishonesty or business as usual. Rather, there would be transparency and honesty and light and togetherness. Where there was hatred, Obama would sow love. Where there was injury, Obama would bestow his pardon. Where there was error, Obama would bring truth. Americans were not choosing a new president, the propaganda held, they were choosing a new era.

As we now know, it didn’t happen. Instead, the new president lied. Instead, he pretended that politics is optional and that he was above the fray, and he used the insidious cover of false pragmatism to advance his boilerplate agenda. The dissonance was breathtaking. One moment, he and his advisers were concluding that he would need to deceive the public about his stance on gay marriage if he wished to retain the support of the religious and of minorities; the next, he was out on stage, furrowing his brow, and looking plaintively to the heavens. Obama, David Axelrod tells us, believes that he is a poor “bulls****er.” The record shows another story.#page#

In fact, to look back over the past few years is to conclude that Barack Obama is a bulls***er par excellence. Who among us will forget the sincere look that came into in his eyes as he told Rick Warren that, “as a Christian,” he believed that “marriage is the union between a man and a woman”? Who can disremember that talk of the “sacred union,” or his asseveration that “God’s in the mix.” “What I believe in my faith,” Obama suggested in 2004, “is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting.” This, as Axelrod confirms, was plainly false. In truth, Obama believed nothing of the sort, but had instead “grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage.”

Not very good at bulls****ing?

There is little to be gained by attempting to subcategorize different forms of dishonesty; nor is there a great deal to be achieved by playing Clintonian games with the question of what the word “lie” really means. And yet we can learn a great deal about a person by examining what he chooses to lie about. For Obama — the great progressive hero — the evidence here is damning. Consider, if you will, that we have just learned that the nation’s first black president put his own political ambitions before the aims of an endeavor that his champions insist is akin to the civil-rights movement. Consider, too, that we have learned that he did so repeatedly, calculatedly, and cynically. Worse of all, perhaps, consider that he appears to have done so by pretending that he was bound by deeply held religious beliefs that, in reality, he does not appear to have held.

“Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church,” Axelrod writes.

And so, hoping to keep their votes, Obama bit his lip and put his hand on his heart and played up the God talk to the little people who had flocked around his campaign. And then, wholly aware of what he had done, he went home for the day, and lamented quietly that he was a pathetic, opportunistic phony, who lacked the political courage to go as far in supporting gay rights as Vice President Cheney had gone.

There are no angels in politics — whatever they might tell you in November.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

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