Surprise! It turns out Barack Obama supported marriage equality the whole time.
Well, not much of a surprise. Close political observers strongly suspected all along that he supported same-sex marriage. But advisers dissuaded him from taking that position in 2008, and he only chose to “evolve” on the issue going into 2012, when polling indicated his support would no longer be a liability.
What’s the sin here? I’m pro-hypocrisy. The ethics of politics don’t require politicians to take positions they “really” believe in. To the contrary: They are representatives, and what they owe their constituents is good representation. This begins (as the political scientist Richard Fenno understands it) with making promises during an initial campaign.
It would have been a problem if Obama claimed to oppose same-sex marriage while intending to support it once he was elected. It wouldn’t have mattered if the broken promise was based on personal beliefs or on political considerations.
I see no evidence (so far) that Obama was guilty of such a violation. Instead, he gave weak support for his position in the 2008 campaign. And, while pure fiction, his subsequent story that his stance on same-sex marriage was “evolving” was nevertheless consistent with the obligation to explain his actions (in this case, his new position) in view of his original promises.
It’s true that Obama’s actions early in his presidency (before he supposedly evolved) had the effect of supporting marriage equality – in particular, selecting two Supreme Court justices likely to rule that way.
Anyone looking for an area where Obama’s campaign promises haven’t matched his actions in office should focus on civil liberties. It’s no big deal when politicians conceal their private positions. It’s more serious when they don’t follow through on public promises and fail to explain the change.