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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2008

Flipping and flopping

IT'S A good thing many of Barack Obama's supporters don't care much about issues, because their candidate has been changing his position on them with dizzying speed.

"Barack Obama aligned himself with welfare reform on Monday, launching a television ad which touts the way the overhaul 'slashed rolls by 80 percent,'•" ABC News reported July 1. "Obama leaves out, however, that he was against the 1996 federal legislation which precipitated the case-load reduction."

When the Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia ban on handgun ownership June 26, Mr. Obama said he supported the decision of the 5-4 majority. But last November he told the Chicago Tribune he thought the D.C. handgun ban was constitutional. While in the state legislature, he proposed legislation that would, in effect, have banned handguns in Illinois.

Mr. Obama said he disagreed with another 5-4 Supreme Court decision the day before, which struck down a Louisiana law that had authorized the death penalty for someone who rapes a child. When he first ran for the state senate in 1996, Mr. Obama said he opposed capital punishment, and in the legislature he opposed applying the death penalty to gang murders.

Campaigning in Ohio before the Democratic primary there, Mr. Obama said the North American Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated. One of his economic advisers, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, told a Canadian official that Mr. Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

When the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported this, the Obama campaign initially denied that Mr. Goolsbee had met with the Canadian consul in Chicago and then claimed he had been misquoted. After the CBC provided conclusive proof both of the meeting and what Mr. Goolsbee had said, Mr. Obama distanced himself from his economic adviser.

No longer. In an interview with Nina Easton of Fortune magazine published June 18, Mr. Obama said he didn't want unilaterally to reopen negotiations on NAFTA. "Sometimes during a campaign, the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he said.

In August, Mr. Obama called for easing the economic embargo on Cuba. When he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2003, he indicated he favored lifting it entirely. But in a speech to the Cuban American National Foundation May 23, Mr. Obama said he'd maintain the embargo.

Last September, Mr. Obama said he would accept federal matching funds for the general election campaign if his GOP opponent did the same. But on June 19, he announced he wouldn't. The reason was simple. The Obama campaign thinks it can raise more than twice as much as the $85 million he'd get from the feds. The flip-flop probably would have gone down better if he hadn't offered a transparently phony rationale for it.

"Mr. Obama had an opportunity here to demonstrate that he really is a different kind of politician, willing to put principles and the promises he has made above political calculation. He made a different choice," said the Washington Post in an editorial. "Fine. Politicians do what politicians need to do. But they ought to spare us the self-congratulatory back-patting while they're doing it."

Mr. Obama said on Jan. 28 that he would "strongly oppose" an intelligence-surveillance bill that provided retroactive immunity from lawsuits to telephone companies that cooperated with the U.S. government. But on June 20, he announced he'd support a bill that does just that.

In his debate in Philadelphia with Sen. Hillary Clinton in April, Mr. Obama pledged to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of assuming the presidency. But foreign policy adviser Susan Rice appeared to be laying the groundwork for another change in position in her appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday. "That's not a deadline," she said. "He will listen to his commanders on the ground, he will follow and heed their advice."

Dominic Lawson, writing in the left-wing British newspaper the Independent on Tuesday, described Mr. Obama as "the master of the U-turn."

Some Obama supporters are experiencing buyer's remorse, Mr. Lawson said, but most think "Obama doesn't believe any of the things he is now saying to woo the 'redneck states.'

"To this group we must address a simple question," Mr. Lawson said. "How do you know what Obama really believes in?"



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