Inartful Consistency

Noting the hubbub over Barack Obama’s attempts to walk back his statements on the DC gun ban, Howie Kurtz echoes a sentiment Dave Schuler and I have made numerous times on OTB Radio:

Wouldn’t it be better for Obama to say he had thought more about such-and-such an issue and simply changed his mind? Is that verboten in American politics? Is it better to engage in linguistic pretzel-twisting in an effort to prove that you didn’t change your mind?

Certainly, Obama isn’t the first politician to do this. Indeed, he’s not the only presumptive major party nominee for president to do it this cycle. But it’s an annoying tendency nonetheless.

Why can’t leaders simply say that their initial view was either ill formed or that they’ve changed their mind pursuant to new evidence? It’s not unreasonable, after all, that someone shifting from representing a single state to seeking to lead all fifty would suddenly find himself asked to comment on numerous issues to which he had previously given only scant attention.

As a bonus, following on the heels of the famously stubborn and fact-resistant George W. Bush, it would likely be seen as an especially good character trait. One doesn’t want a leader who is wishy-washy on big principles. But one willing to learn and change one’s views accordingly? That’s a storybook, man.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Political Theory, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Redtown says:

    Speaking of Obama’s flip-flops, or the gulf between his image and his reality, don’t miss this story on Obama’s extensive involvement with sleazy real estate developers and their paybacks to his campaign.

    The (liberal, pro-Obama) Boston Globe published this investigative report on Friday:

    “As a state senator, (Obama) coauthored an Illinois law creating … tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.

    “A Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies – including several hundred in Obama’s former district – deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

    “Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama’s constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.

    “Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers – including Jarrett, Davis, and Rezko – collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama’s campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors. Rezko alone raised (another) $200,000, by Obama’s own accounting.

    “One of those contributors, Cecil Butler, controlled Lawndale Restoration, the largest subsidized complex in Chicago, which was seized by the government in 2006 after city inspectors found more than 1,800 code violations.

    “Butler and Davis did not respond to messages. Rezko is in prison; his lawyer did not respond to inquiries.”

    This gives a whole new meaning to Obama’s slogan, ”Yes we can!”

    Obama’s involvement with Tony Rezko – who was convicted of 16 corruption counts including fraud, money laundering, and taking kickbacks – is just the tip of the iceberg.

  2. Hal says:

    Wow. So let me get this straight. Obama has no real issues with the SCOTUS ruling on an individual right to own a gun. That disappoints conservatives because the traditional thing that conservatives do is beat the crap out of democrats over gun control. Now that’s completely off the table because – Jim Henley’s wishcasting not withstanding – almost all democrats are yawning and perhaps mumbling a few words about the impact on edges. So now a reliable horse that y’all used to beat to rally the troops has taken away.

    So now Kurtz has to go back through Obama’s previous statement and nitpicks to a pretty obsessive degree to find some inconsistencies. And then lays into him for agreeing with him.

    That takes some pretty big balls, I’ll give him that.

    I mean, it’s not like McCain’s long, long list of flips that you don’t need seventeen paragraphs of parsing and whining to understand each and every flip. But you go to the election with the candidate you have, so to speak.

    Nice try, Kurtz. Let me know how that whole effort works out for ya.


  3. Beldar says:

    It’s one thing to change one’s mind about what position one should take on an issue when one can cite new facts that he or she previously didn’t have the benefit of considering. That ought to be acceptable.

    Thus, McCain ought to be able to say: “Well, yeah, I previously concluded that drilling in ANWR was a bad idea. But since then, I’ve learned more about ANWR, and specifically about how little of its acreage would be involved in carefully targeted drilling, and now we’re looking at $4+/gallon gasoline, so I’ve changed my mind. But I still believe that we ought to be good stewards of the earth and take great care to avoid unnecessary spoiling of the environment. I’ve simply come to the conclusion, based on facts I didn’t have available to me before, that for these particular few acres in this extremely remote place, the balancing of interests ought to come out differently now.”

    But wholesale throwing off of principles is another thing entirely. (Viz: Obama and public campaign financing.)

    Being flexible and open-minded doesn’t make one a whore. Selling out for advantage, does.