The Secret Hearts of Politicians

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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42 Responses

  1. Ethan Gach says:

    Mitt Romney is a wishy-washy “I’ll do anything to get elected” kind of guy. 

    When Obama does this, it’s called being a pragmatic politician.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Of course, blacks voted 70-30 in favor of banning gay marriage in California [Prop 8], black ministers were recently out vs. the new Maryland SSM law, and BHO will need like 110% of the black vote to get re-elected.

      Surely just an oversight on this angle.


      Black pastors take heat for not viewing same-sex marriage as civil rights matter

      By Marc Fisher, Published: February 23

      All of a sudden, they are bigots and haters — they who stood tall against discrimination, who marched and sat in, who knew better than most the pain of being told they were less than others.

      They are black men, successful ministers, leaders of their community. But with Maryland poised to become the eighth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, they hear people — politicians, activists, even members of their own congregations — telling them they are on the wrong side of history, and that’s not where they usually live.


      Sometimes, the pastors say, the name-calling and the anger sting.


  2. Michelle says:

    Yeah, his stance on same-sex marriage isn’t exactly a profile on courage.Report

  3. Uncular 1 says:


    You are clearly missing the nuance here. As a state senator he was for it, but as the chief executive of the federal government he opposes it. Clearly this is indicative of his strong belief in states rights versus federal overreach. The last thing Pres. Obama wants is more burdensome federal requirements put on the backs of the states. ;p



  4. Mike Schilling says:

    Agreed; rather than assume Obama is secretly pro-same-sex marriage, let’s take him at his stated position (from

    He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

    Does that put any daylight between Obama and Bush or Romney?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      It certainly does.  I’m not arguing that one side is the same as the other, only that “my side is lying for a good reason” doesn’t have much to recommend about it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Fair enough.


      • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        only that “my side is lying for a good reason” doesn’t have much to recommend about it.

        Maybe I’m not thinking about this right, but does this mean you reject the initial analogy? I mean, you’ve just admitted that people who think Obama actually favors SSM aren’t accusing Obama of lying about anything.

        What’s the point here? That politicians temper their rhetoric in order to win elections? Or that politicians outright lie in order win elections? Or that supporters of politicians excuse the lying for pragmatic purposes (ie., to get their guy in office)?

        Either way, tho, I don’t see how the initial claim isn’t a false equivalence. But, of course, maybe I’m confused.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I don’t think Romney is in favor of civil unions anymore. (and neither is any significant fraction of the Republican Party)Report

  5. Will H. says:

    I don’t think marriage is a federal issue under the domestic exception.
    But I see the point in the OP of partisan entities interpreting the same data differently.Report

  6. James Hanley says:

    … people who supported same-sex marriage in 1996 and who are against it today — born-again Christians


  7. DensityDuck says:

    There’s  a difference between “thinks it should be banned” and “has not made a strong and public statement of zealous, unwavering, and unequivocal support for”.Report

  8. clawback says:

    Since you quote the supposed contradiction so approvingly, please explain what you think is meant by “hiding his secret beliefs on the subject of religion.”  Is this some unhinged “secret Muslim” craziness?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

      “Hiding his secret beliefs on the subject of religion” is absolutely and unquestionably a reference to the belief that President Obama is a secret Muslim.

      I do not agree, mind you, that he actually is a secret Muslim.  He’s a Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ.  And anyway, even if he were a Muslim (which he isn’t!), I would think it was totally awesome. We should definitely have a Muslim president at some time, and a Jewish president, and a gay president, and an atheist president, and… Anyway, I love it when America embraces diversity.

      The reason I approve of the comparison has nothing to do with the truth value that I assign to any statement in either comparand.  I love the comparison because it shows how anything — even lying — can be held up as a shining example of goodness, but only for a politician we already like.  If we already dislike, then lying is bad.  But only then, and not when we like.

      Politics is the mind-killer, as I never get tired of saying.Report

    • Another Michael in reply to clawback says:

      The author isn’t subscribing to “‘secret Muslim’ craziness”. He’s implying that “‘secret gay marriage supporter’ craziness” is similarly problematic. I don’t think he’s right about the equivalence. He does have a point that congratulating oneself for deciphering Obama’s strategic misrepresentation of his own position on gay marriage is rather premature, however.Report

  9. Jesse Ewiak says:

    If hedging on gay marriage meant Obama got elected and as a result, DADT no longer exists and DOMA isn’t being argued for by the government, I’ll take that over full-throated support and a loss by Obama.Report

  10. Nob Akimoto says:

    How is it a contradiction?

    There’s a substantial gap in the available evidence in the cases being presented.

    It’s like saying there’s a contradiction in saying:
    1. If you believe 9/11 was a Jewish inside job orchestrated by the Mossad you’re a vile anti-semite.
    2.  If you believe the pre-war intelligence about Iraq was manipulated for political reasons you’re a savvy understander of realpolitik.

    The two are not the same.Report

    • North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Agreed, I don’t think the comparison is exactly fair. But it’s not entirely unfair.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Your analogy is not analogous to my analogy.

      In your (1.), a group the speaker probably hated anyway (Jews) is singled out for lying, and the lying is found to weigh against them.

      To make an analogy analogous to my analogy, you’d need a (2.) in which a group the speaker probably loved anyway (Nazis?) is singled out for lying (to Stalin, perhaps), and the lying is found to show a savvy understanding of realpolitik (which arguably it did, because Stalin totally got fooled).

      If that were the analogous analogy, then basically everything I’ve said would still hold — out-groups are frowned on for strategic lying, even if the belief that strategic lying took place is without foundation; in-groups are praised for strategic lying, even when the belief that they are dissembling is very well-founded (the Nazis, of course, really did lie to Stalin).

      And if anyone says I’m comparing Obama to Hitler, I’m just gonna cry.  I don’t wanna cry, but I’m gonna.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        My point was more regarding how the speaker would view the person holding the specific view, rather than the quality of the liar. That is to say, a 9/11 was a Jewish job person is a vile anti-semite, but a “Bush lied to us about Iraq” person is probably based on some sort of valid reasoning.

        Since the person assuming bad faith about Obama’s religion probably isn’t particularly fond of the president to begin with, I think my analogy stands. But please don’t cry.Report

        • Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          A better analogy is probably:
          1. If you think Obama’s lying about his opposition to GITMO you’re a shrill leftist crank.
          2. If you think Obama’s lying about his opposition to SSM you’re a serious progressive thinker.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    I grow exceedingly tired of all this crap about Contradictions and Secret Beliefs.    C’mon, get real for once, folks — did you ever get into a situation with a bunch of preconceived notions and come out the tail end of that situation a changed person, considerably less doctrinaire about that sort of thing?

    Yeah.  Happened to me, more than once.   More than a hundred times.  All my precious ideals about justice and the Right Way to Do Things got smashed into those little shards of pottery the archaeologists find in their sifting screens.   They don’t even bother keeping them as souvenirs, much less reassembled for some museum display. They sort out a kilo or so and give them to a pottery expert so he can help date the layer.   That’s it.

    Most of those preconceived notions came to grief when I was obliged to deal with people I couldn’t control, which in my case is just about everyone else involved.   Things don’t get done my way and if I want to stay billable, I’ll have to live with what other people arrive at via whatever ham-handed methodology they wanted to use.  Everyone in the workaday world understands this problem.   You’ve got three options.   One, put up a big fight on principle and quit.  Two, go along with every stupid thing they say, no matter how unrealistic.   Or three, work within the boundaries of the possible, making the best of the situation. knowing they’ve brought you into that conference room for their own reasons, most of which are about getting your stamp of approval on their idiotic plan.

    Though it might seem Option One is the most dangerous, simply because it’s suicidal, this is not true.   Option One lets you walk away.   It’s Option Two that you ought to fear.   Option Two puts you in the trick bag.   While you were nodding and taking notes and not pointing out why some unrealistic scheme couldn’t work, the guys who proposed it assume they’re on the right track because you didn’t say “Hey, if we do this, we can’t do that” or something to that effect.   Silence gives consent.   Those people don’t have to solve the problems.  Once that meeting’s over and implementation begins, they think everything is cool, and that’s what they’ll expect back. And they will hold you to every stupid promise.

    So Obama hasn’t driven into the wall over same sex marriage.  He’s done what he can.  He got the military out of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, itself a half-a-loaf piece of legislation back in Clinton’s day, a piece of legislation his enemies used against him, time and again.   Marriage isn’t the province of the executive branch, the states grant marriage licenses.   I’m upset with Obama for not closing Gitmo.   But let’s not say he didn’t try.   The Congress wouldn’t let him.

    American kids don’t get much in the way of civics classes any more, it seems.   The President sits in his office at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, pretty much alone when it comes to legislation.   He can propose legislation and sign it.  Oh, there’s the Vice President, who can cast a tie-breaking vote, so he’s not completely alone, but it’s the President’s signature that completes the legislative process.   There’s also the signing statement, which Bush43 used a lot, Obama has used it a fair bit but nothing like Bush43 did.

    Whitman said:
    The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
    And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

    Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
    Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
    (Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

    Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
    Who wishes to walk with me?

    Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

    Sure, the President contradicts himself.  He’s not only full of multitudes, he represents and embodies multitudes.   Seen aright, he is the servant of the people but more than that, he is the man we elected to guide the country into an uncertain future, armed not with a laundry list but with his own conscience and wisdom.

    Edmund Burke once said  “your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”   Blame Obama for the fact that justice has not been completely done if such is your conclusion.   I think he could close Gitmo without Congressional approval.   But don’t blame him for changing his mind on same-sex marriage.   He’s done as much as is politically possible.   He may yet do more, given more time and political capital.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

      C’mon, get real for once, folks — did you ever get into a situation with a bunch of preconceived notions and come out the tail end of that situation a changed person, considerably less doctrinaire about that sort of thing? Yeah.  Happened to me, more than once.

      But but but — you’ve never run for office! The American people expect so much more from their politicians!

      Seriously…  So often, Blaise, you and I agree, and yet you manage to turn things about so it appears that we don’t.  I like you a lot, and yet I don’t understand why you do this.

      What does Obama really think, in his secret heart, about same-sex marriage?  In two senses, it doesn’t matter.  You’re right that it doesn’t matter in that the President has very little power in this area anyway.  But it also doesn’t matter because no one will ever hear of it.  Not when his opinions seem so clearly to be driven by polls anyway.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        now you make me want to write a post on the Ultimate Chameleon Politician, who if you look carefully, can indeed be distinguished from NotRomney.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Aw, c’mon Jason, it wouldn’t be good rhetoric if we agreed so much.   Fact is, you’re a sterling intellect and well worth quarrelling with every day of the week.   I learn nothing from agreement and I’m horribly frustrated by my inability to get back to Classical Liberalism.

        Well, I can’t speak to Obama’s feelings but I can give you mine.  I tell this story, not to praise myself as some stand-out individual, for I was not.   I tell it because it’s what old men do, they remember.

        All my life I’ve been taught homosexuality is a sin.  We hear less of it now, but it’s an ongoing doctrine.   I had befriended a boy who everyone suspected of being gay, my parents didn’t approve.  I still went on being his friend.   It cost me other friendships.   But it made me several other friendships in the gay community, which was then deeply in the closet and had its share of sinister ministers.   I guess they’d call it being read into a situation in the military and intelligence world.  For the world was different then, no news to you I’m certain.

        Two guys in Basic Training decided they wanted out.   So they said they were gay, and were discharged immediately.   They weren’t gay.   They just took advantage of rule which didn’t involve decking the drill instructor.

        Later on in the military, there were several gay men in Headquarters Battery and several more in the DIVARTY.   A few of us NCOs and officers knew about this situation and acted to protect them.   Soldiers really don’t care about it, there’s no privacy anyway: if you’re a good soldier and exist in a situation with good unit cohesion, soldiers protect each other from lots of consequences.   An NCO’s job is to keep the fart in the sack and keep everyone else from smelling it.

        It was a long time ago.   If there was a dichotomy between what we personally believed and what we said we believed, and we all made gay slurs about each other, were we hypocrites?   Yes, I suppose we were.

        Entertain your cynicism about Obama.   I’m no less deserving of that cynicism.   Lots of us are, privileged American white dudes, given every opportunity in life.  We’re on top of the heap, benefitting from all these advantages.  So I was friends with a gay boy, caused me some little trouble.   It was nothing. I’ve never had to actually /be/ gay or black or live anywhere else down that heap.    Anything I have to say about the slow advance of the rights of man is moot.   I did what little I could and probably could have done more.

        I can’t believe being gay’s a sin, any more than I can believe eating pork is a sin.   But it took an awful lot of courage to tell my parents I didn’t think being gay was a sin.   Yet I can’t believe men are much different now than they were back then:  confronted with injustice at a personal level, the gay men in our units were never ratted out.   Justice takes time.Report

  12. Rufus F. says:

    I like this post. The “secretly he wants to support same sex marriage, but can’t” argument has bugged me and this is a good explanation of that.Report

  13. Gabriel says:

    Apparently Barack Obama is illuminati

    what you guys think?
    Give me your thoughts