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Obama Is A Good BSer, But He’s A Bad Liar

What Obama’s Gay-Marriage Lie Tells Us About Contemporary Politics


It’s pretty simple. If you lie, lie about the right things.

It’s not difficult to imagine a pro-choice candidate winning the presidency. But imagine, if you can, a president whose position on abortion “evolves” after the election. Imagine this president advocating that all innocent human life is worth protecting. Imagine that she appoints judges to solidify her new pro-life attitude. And then imagine the president’s top advisor informs us that the president was a pro-lifer all along. I imagine that would be a pretty big story.

Politicians break their promises and modify their positions all the time, of course. They BS us about their opinions and carefully craft identities that are palatable to the average voter. When a person enters this political universe, we need accept that most of the things we hear are, at best, poetic truths. But, yet, there is still a big difference between BSing and lying– though the latter is, as Mollie pointed out, pardonable if you happen to be lying for the cause.

In “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,” David Axelrod claims that he knew Obama supported gay marriage back when he first ran for president in 2008. “I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” a far-too-modest Barack Obama supposedly told his advisor after a campaign stop. “There’s no doubt that his sympathies were on the side of allowing gay couples to marry,” Axelrod says. “He also recognized that the country wasn’t there yet—that we needed to bring the country along.”

Bullshit, according to unreliable sources across the interwebs, means “nonsense” or a rebuke of something misleading, disingenuous or false. The Urban Dictionary definition of “bullshitting” is “When someone has no f****ng clue what they are talking about, yet insists on trying to get others to believe him/her.” So, contra the president’s self-criticism, he excels at it.

Lying, on the other hand, not so much. Obama is given a free pass as the media uses every euphemism in existence to avoid using the word “lie.” A lie that Obama covered up using his faith and family. A lie that reflects the corruption of politics in general and this president in particular. It’s the sort of lying that one imagines all good government types would be concerned about.

Jonathan Chait puts it well:

To be sure, the voters’ right to know what the candidates believe is not absolute, and it’s routinely violated by a political-media complex that does a horrendous job of informing them. But this process of industrialized spin is a bad thing. When a candidate contributes to public misinformation, regardless of his good intentions, he has done something morally questionable.

The candidate didn’t merely contribute to public misinformation, he claimed that God had cemented his views on the issue. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” said Obama, when defending traditional marriage in 2008. “Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

Obama pulled a variation of Mario Cuomo’s famous cop-out on social issues. The former New York governor argued that he, as a Catholic, might believe abortion was tantamount to killing, but he, as a politician, would not seek “to force” his beliefs regarding murder on others in the same way he might force people to do more important stuff like recycle. Cuomo was able to embrace liberal orthodoxy while, at the same time, preserving a bond with his faith. Or so he thought.

Obama, on the other hand, claimed that his faith was so strong he couldn’t give into progressive orthodoxy. Whether Jesus and/or public polling informed Obama’s decision, for me, at least, his awkward stance on same-sex marriage always sounded more like an apology – something akin to: “Listen, voters believe all this crap so I’m sort of required to take this callous, antiquated positon on “marriage” that, as we all know, I don’t really believe in.” Axelrod’s story, then, is completely plausible.

The first clue, was his use of Christianity itself. Of all the people I’ve debated in public or private about gay marriage, and there have been many, I can’t recall a single instance when the defense was predicated on “as a Christian.”  As an atheist, I find that traditional marriage proponents are far more likely to argue about social goods and societal benefits than offer declarations of moral certitude meant to shut down a conversation. I can’t say the same for the other side.

In an interview with Buzzfeed retroactively corrects himself:

“I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue,” Obama said. “I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there.”

No one with access thought it worthwhile to dig any further back then? Why doesn’t someone ask Obama what’s changed about his Christianity that brought about this evolution?  Squaring your opinion with “a whole bunch of religious sensitivities” is not the same as contending that you’re opposed to gay marriage “as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.” It makes no sense.

Who am I kidding? No one cares. What’s clear is that Obama isn’t shy about pulling in religion when it suits his political needs. Christianity is a means of bolstering progressive ideals. For years, I’ve been hearing how twisting faith for political purposes corrodes American democracy. It was a selective concern. And if David Axelrod is telling the truth – and it seems to me, the purpose of this story is to let us know that the president was always enlightened – what are we to make of the long-winded fairy tale about how his daughters helped him see the light to ABC’s Robin Roberts in 2012? What we learn is that president is pretty big BSer, but not a very good liar. Not that anyone seems to be too concerned.