On issues ranging from the serious (Social Security payroll taxes and capital gains taxes) to the silly (flag lapel pins), few things have escaped late-campaign overhauls by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
During the past eight weeks alone, Obama has significantly scaled back once-vociferous positions on the payroll tax, capital gains tax rates, and offshore drilling. During the course of his political ascendancy, he has waffled on single-payer healthcare, hovered beneath the radar on gay rights and gun control, and rethought his wholehearted endorsement of ethanol subsidies.
The frequent changes leave many asking: Just where does Obama stand, and is he a flip-flopper?
Media expert Cordel Faulk told Newsmax that such changes “will play heavily into the minds of voters as they make their decisions.
“Right now, it looks like voters care about one thing first and foremost: The economy — and these issues will resonate,” said Faulk, who is communications, media and research director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville.
A Newsmax review of Obama campaign statements reveals the fluid nature of the Democratic senator’s platform:
Social Security Payroll Tax — The law now requires withholding of payroll taxes on only the first $102,000 of earnings; anything above that is free of the tax. Early in the primary season, Obama advocated lifting that cap and taxing all earnings as a way to address future Social Security shortfalls. But during a debate in April, Sen. Hillary Clinton confronted Obama with the allegation that this would amount to a tax hike on folks making less than $250,000 a year – something Obama had vowed not to do.
His response: a new plan that would keep the free pass in place for those earning between $102,000 and $250,000, creating what some have nicknamed “the doughnut hole.”
Capital Gains Tax — Obama, again during the primary season, expressed his intent to restore the capital gains tax rate, which now is 15 percent, to 28 percent, its high point during the Clinton administration. But the campaign now says it will not support any increase beyond the 20 percent figure Senator Clinton advocated during her primary campaign, according to an opinion piece that Obama advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee wrote in August in The Wall Street Journal. He also indicated during a televised interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in September that he had abandoned his quest to seek cap gains taxes of 25 percent or 28 percent, saying 20 percent was his new limit.
That’s nothing compared with his convention acceptance speech on Aug. 27, when he said he would eliminate the cap gains tax altogether for small businesses.
Financial commentator Larry Kudlow recently wrote: “If Senator Obama is flip-flopping toward lower investment taxes, so much the better.”
Offshore Drilling — In June, as gasoline prices were soaring, Sen. John McCain reversed an earlier position and came out in favor of lifting the moratorium on drilling for oil off much of the U.S. coast. That week, Obama criticized McCain’s change of heart, telling a gathering of Democratic governors in Chicago that “it makes absolutely no sense at all.” Less than six weeks later, however, speaking in Florida to a reporter with The Palm Beach Post, Obama said he’d be fine with expanded offshore drilling as part of any larger plan to move toward energy independence. “I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done,” he said.
Single-payer Healthcare — During Obama’s battle with Clinton for the Democratic nomination, she claimed that he once favored a government single-payer health system and had shifted to a private insurance-based plan only after he became a serious presidential hopeful, an allegation that Obama denied. But speaking to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June 2003, Obama had said, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal healthcare program. I see no reason why the United States of America the wealthiest country in the history of the world, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. A single-payer healthcare plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see.”
Gun Control — For most of Obama’s political career, he has been an ardent proponent of strict gun control. Since taking the national political stage, however, he has appeared, at various times, on both sides of the gun-control debate. In 1996, when he was running for the Illinois Senate, the nonprofit Independent Voters of Illinois sent him a questionnaire that asked:
Do you support legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?
Do you support a ban on assault weapons?
Do you support mandatory waiting periods and background checks?
To all three questions, he answered yes in his own handwriting. When the matter was raised during his hard-fought April primary battle against Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, he denied filling out the questionnaire, and his campaign said a staffer must have done it. He told Pennsylvania voters at the time that he had “no intention of taking away folks’ guns.”
Despite those assurances, Obama strongly supported a total handgun ban in Washington, D.C.; at least he did until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in June. At that point, Obama sided with the court, saying, “I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms.”
“As president,” Obama said in response to the ruling, “I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne.”
His latest explanation to the Web site Politico: “Because I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage. And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets.”
Gay Rights — Only when the Los Angeles Times asked Obama about the issue in July did he acknowledge that he opposes a California ballot measure that would overturn a state high court ruling and ban same-sex marriage. He opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment when it was up for a vote in the Senate but has said more than once, “Personally, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.” And during debate in the Illinois State Senate on an anti-discrimination law in 2004 he said this: “I don’t think marriage is a civil right, but I think that not being discriminated against is a civil right.”
Ethanol — Obama, like most Democratic presidential contenders in recent decades, has not been shy in his support for ethanol subsidies, which play a key role in the economy of early caucus state Iowa. In Obama’s case, that support is likely doubly felt given his roots in neighboring Illinois, which ranks only behind Iowa in corn production. But during an interview on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert in May, long after getting his Iowa primary-season bounce, Obama was asked about the impact of corn use for ethanol on then-soaring food prices around the globe. “There’s no doubt that biofuels may be contributing to it,” he acknowledged. “My top priority is making sure that people are able to get enough to eat. And if it turns out that we’ve got to make changes in our ethanol policy to help people get something to eat, then that’s got to be the step we take.”
Flag Lapel Pins — In a debate during his Pennsylvania primary fight in April, Obama said this about flag lapel pins: “I have never said that I don’t wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins.” Yet, during an interview in October 2007, according to FactCheck.org, he said, “I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”
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