There are a number of surrounding considerations that mitigate, but don’t fully excuse, what we can now plainly call a “lie.” One is that Obama had no direct decision-making authority on the issue — which is to say, lying about his stance on a mostly abstract policy issue is not the same as lying about whether he'd sign a health-care bill. Another is that Obama had the decency to lie badly.
Indeed, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reporter or pundit who wasn't pretty sure that Obama supported gay marriage prior to when he publicly acknowledged it in 2012 — which is why the reaction to Axelrod's revelation has been somewhat muted. We all just assumed he was lying, basically.
But at its core, this is a pretty striking bit of news: An American president's top adviser admitting that the president deliberately lied to the public about his true position on an issue of significant currency.
Sometimes people give the political press a hard time about over-analyzing the politics of a given decision or attributing whatever a politician does to the political winds of the day. This is The Fix's stock-in-trade. And, for what it's worth, we don't doubt that there are some members of Congress who simply don't care about the consequences of their votes and positions and do what they feel.
But the best politicians are acutely aware at all times of what they are doing and how it could possibly be perceived. They know every word they utter could alienate a key constituency or might be seen as taking a position that doesn't need to be taken quite yet.
If anybody still had any doubts that Obama is that kind of politician, they should be all but erased. As Hunter Schwarz notes today, his "evolution" on gay marriage just so happened to coincide with when it became more popular than unpopular with Americans.
But he's hardly the only one. Pretty much the entire Democratic caucus in the Senate just happened to evolve on this issue in a matter of months. Fourteen of them came out in support of gay marriage in a span of 22 days (!). This is not a coincidence. This is sticking fingers in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing. This is nobody wanting to stick their necks out before everyone else does — even on an issue that had been trending in a very clear direction for a decade.
Which is basically what Obama's decision to obscure his support for gay marriage represents. He probably could have just said he supported gay marriage in 2009 or 2010 (and maybe even 2008) and been just fine. But why take the chance when he didn't have to?
Of course, it's one thing for a group of Democratic senators to cling to political expediency; it's another for the "hope and change" president to be revealed as so calculating. Obama promised a new kind of politics and transparency, but his administration has struggled mightily to fulfill those promises.
Which makes it pretty easy to understand why we — and the American people — are so cynical about our politics and our politicians.