The most telling point about David Axelrod’s revelation that Barack Obama fibbed about his position on marriage to get himself elected is not what it says about politics or even the president. It’s what it says about American journalism.
Partly this has to do with timing: The Axelrod confession lands in the midst of the public immolation of NBC’s Brian Williams for the tall tales he told about coming under fire while aboard a helicopter in Iraq.
Though these exaggerations were delivered off-air and not in his news stories, it mattered not: Overnight, Williams became a national punch line and then a suspended national news anchor.
By contrast, we have President Obama. As a candidate for the Illinois state Senate in 1996, he answered a questionnaire the way one might suppose a Democrat from liberal Hyde Park would: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
In “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,” the former Obama adviser says he had no doubt Obama’s 1996 answer “was his heartfelt belief.” But it would not be his position as a candidate for the presidency.
“As he ran for higher office,” writes Axelrod, “he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’ ”
So now we know. It was all bunkum: Obama’s repeated claims about his opposition to gay marriage.
The claim by his communication director that someone else had filled out that ’96 questionnaire.
The constant stories about how the president was wrestling with his soul as he “evolved” on the issue.
Axelrod will have none of it: “If Obama’s views were ‘evolving’ publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors.”