Barack in the Middle

Keeping tabs on Obama’s shifts toward the center.

Barack Obama

When, within a week, Barack Obama voiced support for the FISA “compromise” bill and the Supreme Court decision striking down the Washington, D.C., handgun ban, the media verdict came down: He’s shifting toward the center.

More than a “clarification” but not quite a flip-flop, the centripetal shift is a proud tradition among presidential nominees (as is flat denial of any change in position). But Obama’s movement has been so fast that it’s becoming hard to track. Here’s a quick rundown of Obama’s recalibrations—or at least statements he has made that sound like recalibrations. (Note: We chose not to include outright flip-flops, like the public-funding switcheroo.) We’ll update the list as necessary.

“Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. … [I]f the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it.”
Spokesman Bill Burton, Oct. 23, 2007The act “is a marked improvement over last year’s Protect America Act. … It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.”
Barack Obama, June 20, 2008“Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.”
Unnamed Obama aide, Nov. 20, 2007.
Obama’s camp has since said this is an inaccurate description of his stance. And yet he appears to have supported handgun bans in a 1996 questionnaire. (Obama
denied that he filled out the questionnaire, but his handwriting appears on it.)
“It looks to me that the D.C. handgun ban overshot the runway, that it went beyond constitutional limits. But it doesn’t mean that local communities can’t, you know, pass background checks, that they can’t make sure that they’re tracing guns that have been used in crimes to find out where they got them from.”
Obama, June 26, 2008“Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”
Barack Obama, March 11, 2007.
His campaign clarified: “[T]he Palestinian people are suffering from the Hamas-led government’s refusal to renounce terrorism and join as a real partner in the peace process.”
“Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
—Barack Obama,
June 4, 2008.
His campaign later
clarifiedthat “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties.” In an op-ed that appeared in an Iowa newspaper last September, Obama proposeda tax structure that would lift the cap on income taxed for Social Security, which currently stands at $102,000. The proposal would raise an estimated $1.5 trillion over 10 years.Last month in Columbus, Ohio, Obama proposed a plan that would maintain the payroll tax exemption for income between $102,000 and $250,000 a year. This proposal would raise only an estimated $629 billion, and it would inoculate Obama from charges that he wants an upper-middle-class tax hike. Obama declined to sign a Senate measure condemning MoveOn.org for its “General Betray Us” ad, dismissingthe resolution as a political stunt. “The focus of the United States Senate should be on ending this war, not on criticizing newspaper advertisements,” he said in a statement on Sept. 20, 2007.In his June 30 speech on patriotism, Obama said, “All too often, our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments, a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.”    “I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced. And that is not what has been happening so far.”
Feb. 26, 2008.
He also called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake.”
“Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” he toldFortune in June.     Obama declined to answer questions about whether he would have signed President Clinton’s welfare-reform package. “I’m not going to relitigate what happened back in the ‘90s,” Obama said on July 17, 2007. “I’m talking about what’s going to be happening going forward.” Back in 1997, when President Clinton signed the bill, Obama suggested he would not. A new Obama ad touts the federal legislation, which “slashed the rolls by 80 percent.”


What’s left? Obama still hasn’t edged rightward on the issues of Iraq (he still says he’ll start pulling troops out right away), global warming (he still wants cap and trade), health care (he wants a national system “similar to the plan available to members of Congress”), or immigration (he still supports a pathway to citizenship). And you can see why. These issues are the foundations of his candidacy. Scrap them, and you’ve got Democrat X.

Still, don’t be surprised if the line changes slightly on Iraq. Changing circumstances on the ground could force Obama’s hand rightward. Check back for updates.

Anything we missed? Let us know.