Obama Didn’t Lie in 2008 About Marriage being Between a Man and a Woman


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Have other presidents?
    Yes. This has been your simple answer to simple questions for the day.

    Seriously, every President — every politician — who actually sought to maintain his office has…managed..his views. One of the freedom of gerrymandered districts or lengthy service in the same office (and no desire for a higher one) is the ability to be more free of such constraints.

    Take a look at Romney, for instance. I recall threads right here, on this very board, trying to determine the ‘Real Romney’. It was taken for granted that he said stuff, took positions, he didn’t agree with. (Nobody could really tell WHICH of course).

    Same for Bush, same for Reagan, same for Clinton, same for every President who ever stood for election back to Washington himself.

    Yeah, shocker. Black Democrat running for President right after two elections where bashing gay-marriage was a winning GOP tactic toned his support down to the minimum acceptable level to the party. Seriously, such callous political strategy has never before befouled our illustrious White House. To the impeachment machine!

    Joshing aside, I’m not sure why the end of your post is there. Sure, maybe it’s an interesting historical project to figure out when Obama crossed the line between civil unions and gay marriage, but to act like it’s anything but politics-as-usual is…well, weird.

    On another forum, I’d simply assume it was some weird partisan points scoring attempt (a futile one. Every politician does this. All of them. What’s the point of counting coup?).

    Is this really a surprise to you? I mean, was it you thought Obama was somehow magically NOT a politician or is it that politicians do this a surprise?

    Because if you show me a politician that hasn’t flat out adopted a position to stay in (or gain) office even if he privately thought otherwise, and I’ll show you a politician who…doesn’t hold office, honestly. Or has been there so long they’d elect his corpse.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I need to mentally digest this a bit more before giving you the response you deserve, but in the meantime I should confess I wrote the final paragraph the way I did simply because I couldn’t figure out how to end the damn thing. Neither did I want to not post it. It’s not an attempt to disparage Obama, and I actually find the idea of trying to govern using other people’s ideas of morality rather than your own appealing.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        That makes more sense. I had discarded the partisan point scoring as an option so I was left…confused.

        Every politician is constrained by public opinion, but also can lead it and shape it. So there’s a tension, wherein a politician (and his staff) are trying to figure out which of his or her views they can shape the public TO (or get the public to accept) and which they’re going to have to settle for smaller steps, and which they’re going to have to abandon for now and lay groundwork for (smaller PR steps, you know)

        Which does require them to conceal their own opinions at times. I mean you can call it being responsive to your constituents (“I vote their views, not my own, it’s my job”) or political calculation or realpolitik.

        You can’t force a democracy, and to be honest voters don’t really like to vote for someone too out of lockstep with themselves. So any halfway competent politician is going to place themselves in an acceptable position, opinion-wise, and try to figure out where he or she can play the edges — or move the public along.Report

    • My favorite example of this comes from GHWB making himself over into a social conservative for the 1988 election. During one of the debates with Dukakis he proclaimed that he believed, and had always believed, that abortion should be illegal. He was asked whether a woman who had an abortion should be imprisoned. He wasn’t sure, because he’d never thought about it.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    I think that all public figures (and perhaps all people) have two personas — that which embodies their ‘authentic’ notions and that of the face they present to the world. For politicians, perhaps more than anyone else, their public persona embodies the mores of the people the represent.

    We see another example of this very thing with the Confederate flag; there were likely a lot of southern politicians who understood it represented tyranny, torture, and treason to many people in the south, and were personally willing to move beyond, but they didn’t let their public personas recognize that until there was enough force in the public they represent to admit their personal feelings. There are certainly politicians who still cling to the flag, who resent its removal from the public square; but its removal wouldn’t be underway without some substantial shift that’s already happened in those politicians private persona.

    Politicians who get out too far ahead of people tend not to remain politicians, and so unable to shape the changes they’d like to see in our public policy.Report

    • Avatar Lenoxus says:

      Another Civil-War-related example, historical rather than contemporary, is Lincoln’s position on black equality. Did he espouse white supremacy in his debate with Stephen Douglass because that was his true position, or because that’s what it took to “compensate” for his anti-slavery stance? If he did believe it, did his later views “evolve” much? I honestly don’t know; there’s evidence that could go either way. (Maybe the null hypothesis for any white American at that time in history is that they believe what they’ve probably been told since birth about the superiority of whites).Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I suspect that, in general, people smart enough to get elected to high office are also smart enough not to believe all the things they have to say to get elected.

    It’s the only plausible explanation for the fact that things aren’t even more fished up than they are as it is.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I long debated this with a friend who works in politics, but what is the purpose of an elected official:
    1. To pursue the will of his constituents
    2. To pursue her constituents best interests
    3. To exercise his best judgement
    4. Something else

    I don’t know that we have an answer.Report

    • 4. To be re-elected, without which it’s impossible to achieve 1, 2, or 3.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      That’s because there isn’t one single answer, and it’s all of the above (“So MANY vows” – Jaime Lannister).

      It seems to me that you can alternate 1 and 2 pretty easily, using 3.

      If I don’t have a strong opinion about the topic at hand one way or another, I should pursue the will of my constituents, since this is a democracy and theoretically the collective wisdom is often right (or at least, not terribly-wrong). There is some amount of ‘going along to get along’ inherent in any society, and you should save your powder for the fights where you must expend it.

      If, however, I am truly convinced that the collective is choosing the wrong course, one that will ultimately harm the body politic, it’s time to stand up and lead them. Because we are also a republic, imposing certain checks on the snap judgement of the masses.

      Of course, this means that I may not get re-elected…but so be it. A person does have to follow their conscience.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      I like Jonathan Bernstein’s answer to this question that the candidate we most want is the one that’s most predictable. Assuming we agree with their stances, a predictable candidate is more likely to fight for the things we want, and therefore deserves our vote. A candidate can be predictable in two basic ways: (1) by being obviously passionate about the issues, so that you know that they will always act in accordance with a clearly defined way of thinking (e.g. Bernie Sanders, or Rick Santorum); (2) by being a weathervane, and doing whatever the party machine or the constituent polling indicates he should do. In this framework a candidate who goes against his own principles to pursue the will of the party is actually preferable to a candidate who has a sudden change of judgement and passionately pursues his own agenda. Culturally, I think we’ve been trained to think the opposite, but from a practical standpoint this framework makes a lot of sense to me.Report

  5. Avatar LWA says:

    It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if a candidate could express solely his own views, and those views magically aligned perfectly with 51% of his constituents.
    But of course we don’t live in a world of magic.

    Candidates do have to “manage” their views and adopt public stances they themselves don’t hold, and cobble together coalitions of fractious groups.

    We talk about this with Lincoln, artfully timing the Emancipation Proclamation and manipulating the goal of the Civil War, or Roosevelt throwing civil rights under the bus in order to get the Dixiecrats on board with the New Deal, or any one of a million other compromises that happen in politics.

    When we are tempted to view this as a failing of the candidate, we forget that its we ourselves who demand this- A quick review of the history of the ACA shows us liberals who were perfectly willing to ditch the whole thing because it wasn’t single payer, or because it didn’t have the public option, or whatever.

    I have increasingly become skeptical of the idea of grand unifying theories of politics, these sorts of mechanistic high concepts that promise to deliver justice reliably.

    Justice- even idealized, perfect Justice For All, is itself a messy, ambiguous and contradictory thing. Because we ourselves are messy contradictory people. We want individual freedom, but inclusion in a group, to be part of the group and equal, but just a little bit better than everyone else, and to be prosperous and comfortable, but morally correct and untainted by greed, to enjoy hedonistic pleasure and deep spiritual communion, and on and on.Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This is great news, for Hillary. We can now believe that she believes whatever we want her to believe, past, present, or future.Report

  7. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    For what it is worth, I find Obama’s evolution on this unremarkable. I have long favored gay marriage in the abstract, but I thought it politically unfeasible, and therefore not worth expending political capital on. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong. My guess is that Obama was in a similar situation, the difference being that for me “political capital” was mere bloviation, while it was a real thing for him.

    The other thing is, I doubt that anyone on either side was really surprised. I think that everybody always assumed that he probably favored gay marriage in his heart of hearts, and understood that what he really meant was that he wasn’t going to make this a signature issue.

    Finally, I have absolutely no problem with the distinction between one’s personal feelings and one’s position on an issue. Indeed, I would be very concerned about putting into a position of power anyone who can’t tell the difference between holding a position of trust and engaging in an “If I Were God” undergrad bull session.Report

  8. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    @zic, @morat20, @kazzy, and others,
    I’ve digested what everyone has to say. I think you are all probably correct. The “but” is that people don’t seem to treat your point with the same kind of obviousness that you state it here. People who ask questions about candidates seem to at least pretend that their answers have meaning.

    Reflecting on what is going on with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders right now, it seems that there are a set of people who like Sanders because he actually believes the things he says and acts on those beliefs. The defenders of Hillary within the Democratic Party seem to think that Clinton internally has identical views to Sanders but is smart enough not to actually say them out loud. The implication is that she probably thought declaring war on Iraq was a bad idea but went with it to maintain popularity. Likewise with a bunch of other stuff that presumably makes her moderate.

    But if this is actually the case and everyone knows it, why is she actually considered electable and Sanders not? At least some people think Sanders is more authentically liberal than Clinton. Even if it’s all a ruse, it presumably one that has to work on some people. Otherwise, what’s the point of even publicly stating your beliefs at all?

    Another thing that occurs to me is that if politicians really just implement what the public wants without regard to their own beliefs, why not make whoever is the best administrator president? Just pick someone with very good experience managing extremely large organizations effectively. It wouldn’t matter whether they had full-fledged ideological beliefs laying underneath or not.

    sic said a totally normal thing on a thread a while ago regarding Hillary Clinton:

    …I’d welcome Webb pulling her to the left on incarceration. Chaffee doing the same on war.
    I’d welcome that very much.

    I see this idea a lot. It certainly seems to give the impression that what gets said in campaigns matters. And in fact saying certain things would influence the subsequent behavior of elected politicians. Is this true?Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I want you to consider, @vikram-bath , that having Saunders run might be the saving grace for Clinton; he constrains her from the left; limiting her from shifting too far to the right.

      I recommend adding some political scientists to your reading; I’m quite fond of Jonathan Bernstein, who has weekday posts rounding up other worthwhile political-science reporting (and politics in general,) as well. Politics is a game of optics; of three dimensional chess, of how we signal values. I suspect you’ll find it fascinating; I know I do.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      There’s a lot more to being President — or getting their — than positions.

      Although I seriously doubt Hillary Clinton shares all of Bernie Sander’s positions. At all. There’s certain to be overlap — they are both Democrats, after all, and Hillary is certainly not the most right-wing of Democrats — she’s probably a bit right of the party center, in my opinion.

      Publicly stated positions are public. You can’t backtrack on those easily. So really it doesn’t matter so much what Clinton ‘really believes’ so much as what she chooses to talk about and the positions she chooses to take. Those she’s..wedded to, and signal her priorities.

      Sanders can take positions without worrying about electability, compromise, and actually governing. (Well he does for his Senate seat, but not President). He is free to use his positions to shape the debate and get Clinton to sign onto some of his priorities.

      The primaries are part beauty contest and part election, but a lot of what goes on is…negotiation among the primary voters, using the candidates and their positions as proxy.

      And what they decide on is what they’re stuck with, by and large. (Yes, you can ditch stuff and change stuff and make some stuff more important than others and not talk about stuff — but there are political prices to be made for all of that).

      Hillary Clinton has what she thinks is the ideal mix of her own preferences, what she feels she can convince voters (primary and general) to adopt, and what she thinks her constituents feel are important. Sanders has a different mix (although his is less tilted towards what the general election voters think and more towards his preferred policy aims and solutions). Between them and any other candidates, they will shape a campaign message and, well…a goal for the party.

      Events will kick all of that in the teeth, of course, but that’s how it works. They’re negotiating from positions chosen for various reasons (often different ones) and the voters and voter responses will see what survives.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I’m not entirely sure you are wrong to quasi-suggest that electing the best administrator — as opposed to someone with the “best” ideas — isn’t the better way to go. The President’s ideas only matter so much; but his ability to effectively lead the government also matters.Report