The Corner

Refined Refinements

Barack Obama today tried to address directly the question of his shifts to the right in recent weeks. As he often does when answering criticism, he tried to move the question to a level of abstraction well beyond that of the actual substance at issue, and so, he insists:

“I believe in personal responsibility, I also believe in faith. That’s not something new; I’ve been talking about that for years. So the notion that this is me trying to look” – he waves his hands around his head – “centrist is not true.”

Well ok. How about taking a position on terrorist wiretapping that is the opposite of a position he articulated (and voted on) earlier? Or saying he agreed with the Supreme Court striking down a gun law he had earlier said he thought was constitutional? Or saying one thing about trade now and another during the primaries? Or “refining” (the term his own campaign chose to use) his view on Iraq to bring it closer into line with McCain’s?

All these are moves in the right direction, and we ought to hope that if elected, Obama would stick to these new positions. But when he makes such moves so easily and shamelessly and then denies that he has changed at all, can we be blamed if we conclude he’s just playing us for suckers and will revert to his very liberal origins (as demonstrated by his very liberal voting record) if he becomes president? Of course, Obama offered an answer for that too:

“One of the things you find as you go through this campaign, everyone becomes so cynical about politics,” Mr. Obama said. There is an “assumption that your must be doing everything for political reasons.”

It would certainly be interesting to hear some non-political reasons for these sharp reversals. But Obama has not offered reasons at all, only denials of obvious and evident facts. It certainly does seem like “as you go through this campaign, everyone becomes so cynical about politics.”

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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