Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics


A Chicago Gay and Lesbian newpaper, the Windy City Times, has unearthed a candidate issue survey written by then Illinois State Senate Candidate Barack Obama in 1996.  What is notable about this document is what has changed.  Take a look at number 6:


“6)  I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

When I heard this news, I wasn’t angry or surprised.  I was reminded of a story that from the primary campaign.  This isn’t the first time Obama 1996 had a disagreement with Obama 2008.  In December 2007, Politico reported that Barack Obama had taken “unabashedly liberal positions” on a questionnaire he filled out while running for the Illinois State Senate in 1996.  The premise of the article was that his “far left” positions could damage him in the general election:

Regardless, the blunt statements of his earlier views, preserved on a questionnaire he filled out for an Illinois voter group that later endorsed him, would allow a Republican opponent to paint him as being way to the left of the nation’s electorate on questions that have historically been potent wedge issues.

A week after Politico requested a comment, the Obama campaign responded by saying that a campaign aide, not then candidate Obama, had filled out the questionnaire.  His campaign manager from the 1996 campaign confirmed that she had filled out the questionnaire.

Four months later, in March 2008, we learned that the campaign’s December 2007 explanation wasn’t entirely accurate. Politico received an amended copy of the questionnaire with notes on the front page written in Barack Obama’s handwriting.  His new excuse was even more creative:

Through an aide, Obama, who won the group’s endorsement as well as the statehouse seat, did not dispute that the handwriting was his. But he contended it doesn’t prove he completed, approved — or even read — the latter questionnaire.

“Sen. Obama didn’t fill out these state Senate questionnaires — a staffer did — and there are several answers that didn’t reflect his views then or now,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign, said in an e-mailed statement. “He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn’t change the fact that some answers didn’t reflect his views. His 11 years in public office do.”

So he was handed a voter questionnaire and all he did was jot some notes on the first page about his endorsements.  He didn’t even flip through the questionnaire to see how his aide had characterized his views.  What the campaign did not explain at the time, was why the questionnaire had been amended:

Consider the question of whether minors should be required to get parental consent — or at least notify their parents — before having abortion.

The first version of Obama’s questionnaire responds with a simple “No.”

The amended version, though, answers less stridently: “Depends on how young — possibly for extremely young teens, i.e., 12- or 13-year-olds.”

Let’s assume that then-candidate Obama as soooo busy doing fundraisers and traveling across his district and holding rallies and doing TV interviews to fill out his own candidate issue forms.  Let’s assume that his campaign manager did all of that for him (and in the aforementioned case, she changed her mind about parental consent for teenagers seeking abortion).  And let’s assume that then candidate Obama was too busy with his hectic campaign schedule to read what he was signing.  

Two problems:

First, the results of THIS survey were published in what was then called Outlines Newspaper.

Outlines newspaper, as with the new Windy City Times, surveyed candidates for all levels of elected office, and also reported on the results from pro-gay and progressive groups. We summarized the results in that 1996 article by Trudy Ring, but did not list exact answers to questions. In that article Outlines did note that Obama was a supporter of same-sex marriage; that article was never challenged or corrected by Obama.

Now it’s possible that then candidate Obama was too busy traveling his district to read what the newspaper reported about the candidate survey, but there is another problem.  Another candidate survey for IMPACT, then Chicago’s main GLBT political action committee.  Unlike the aforementioned surveys, which were typed, this survey was completed by hand.  Take a look at question 7.


Do you support the Marriage Resolution, a statement of support for the right of same-gender individuals to marry:

“Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice,

RESOLVED, the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who [choose] to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage.”

If you do not support the resolution, will you at least oppose any attempts to outlaw same gender marriage and/or to ammend reciprocity agreements with states which permit same-gender marriage?  Will you oppose any federal initiatives which attempt to over-ride certain state laws which allow same-gender marriage?

Obama’s hand-written response:

I would support such a resolution.

Obama flip-flopped.  Big deal.  He’s a politician.  Politicians do that.  Those of his supporters who understand the nature of politics won’t be fazed by this.  Those who think he walks on water are probably looking for evidence of a Clinton or PUMA conspiracy or they’re looking for a way to rationalize the contradictory statements.  Those of us on planet Earth are wondering what Barack Obama really believes about gay marriage?  Which candidate expressed his accurate views on the topic–Obama ’96 or Obama ’08?  More importantly, now that he’s won the election, is he going to flip back?  I’ll sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation of his decision.

(Via Ben Smith)


  1. But you comment about Barack Obama walking on water reminds me of the remark some competitive parent made to God when he saw Jesus walking on water.

    What’s the matter with your son? Can’t he swim?

    Still trying to work out the equivocation in Obama’s position. But I’ll look to the Moose to enlighten me.  

  2. IMHO – but i think there is a dance that most lefties in the US need to do because of the rights constant demonizing all things ‘liberal.’  certainly – it seems that most dems are forced to ‘tack to the center’ to make themselves more palatable.  

    really – my hope is that the blogosphere can enable and allow politicians and the left movement in general to take back liberalism in all its glory

  3. “Obama flip-flopped.  Big deal.  He’s a politician.  Politicians do that.”

    People do that. Are your views the same as they were 12 years ago?

    “Which candidate expressed his accurate views on the topic–Obama ’96 or Obama ’08? ”

    Why couldn’t it be both? As I just stated, people change their views over the years. That’s generally a good thing. Do we really want to go the route of “Stay the course” George?

  4. spacemanspiff

    Those of his supporters who understand the nature of politics won’t be fazed by this.

    No biggie for me. I don’t believe half the shit that comes out of ANY politicians mouth. To get things done you have to get elected first.

    He has 4 years to show me what where he stands on this issue. As I’ve said before — if he doesn’t get this shit together by then, I will back a more progressive candidate during the 2012 Democratic primary. I can flip flop too. 😉


    Governing requires a stateman.

    Obama has shown his skills as a politician by getting elected against formidable opposition and overwhelming odds.  To get elected a politician must take the stances that correspond to the electorate involved.  Getting elected by the constituents in a single state is different than getting elected by the entire country.

    We’ll find out soon enough if he’s the statesman I believe him to be.  I believe he’s a liberal in ideology and a pragmatist in action.  He will bring the country as far left as the country as a whole is willing, even anxious, to go.

  6. GrassrootsOrganizer

    The way I see it, where a politician “stands” on something should reflect the desires and circumstances of their constituents.  Therefore, I have almost no interest in what a candidate said about something in their past, unless it demonstrates a troublesome character.  I am interested in what they are willing to fight for, what they have compromised on and how well they have served the folks who elected them.  

    My singular biggest beef with Bush (and that’s saying something) was the way he defiantly utterly ignored the will of the people.  I fully expect there to be certain issues where a strong politician has to stand on principle and lead his or her constituency to higher ground.  I also expect them to more fully grasp the complexities of an issue and educate the electorate into support or acceptance.  But I also expect a representative to change or shape their positions because their constituency has educated them.

    The whole “flipflopper” label of any politician is a Rovian distortion of exactly what a truly good politician does — LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE and serve their interests — and should be — of flexible and open mind and evolving in their positions.  The great ones are never ideologues of either the right or left because the push towards progress demands support from all corners to sustain.

    It only makes sense that as a politician scales the ladder of power he or she will shift towards the middle.  Duh.  His or her state congressional district will most likely be a thin slice of economic and cultural demographics.    His or her US congressional district will probably include a much more broad range of classes and positions.  To well represent or serve a large state the considerations come from every direction.  And to well serve the country, an effective president has to be willing to listen to all opposing opinions and forge something new on common ground.

    In my mind, that’s why all battles for minority rights are ultimately won in the courts, because majority rule will always work against them.   When it comes to rethinking human rights and the scope of the Constitution, the electorate is generally the last to get there.  

  7. if and when it isn’t a political suicide pill.  His position now if I’m not mistaken is “everything but the word”, which to me translates to “I believe in gay marriage but I’m not going to stand here all day and argue about the word if that’s all that’s pissing you off.”

    It’s one of those panders that pragmatism requires if you want to get things done.  I’ve worked out my own thoughts on the topic here on the Moose – for myself I support gay marriage but I’d be happy to get “all but the word” if that’s what we could get done, but thanks to the conversations here I’ve come to understand that in our society that still casts gay marriage as “second class”.  If I had to run for national office today, however, it wouldn’t surprise me to find myself publicly stating that I supported “all but the word” out of sheer pragmatics.  The issue with the anti-gay-marriage crowd seems to be more about the word than the institution itself – which makes no logical sense – and I’d rather get something significant done and let time heal the rest than argue semantics all day with a bunch of zealots.

    The “all but the word” position just doesn’t make any other logical sense.  If you are actually opposed to gay marriage you’d never take that position, but you might not bother to fight as hard if someone else took that stand instead of the “including the word” position.

  8. Strummerson

    Obama turns out to be as much a “chameleon on plaid” as Hoover accused FDR of being.  I think Drew is right to raise this for discussion, and I appreciate both the attention to detail in the diary and the pragmatism it allows for.  Both are important.  

    Ultimately, as his response to Prop H8 demonstrates, there is great consistency in his commitment that he “would fight efforts to prohibit [same-sex] marriages.”  That needs to be underscored as well.

    I think at this point that working through the courts needs to be paired with increased education efforts on this issue.  There needs to be more ground up work, even if it’s slower, as I think in the long run the political realities of this fight make it unlikely any electable liberal will do much by executive fiat.  

  9. fogiv

    Here’s the thing about gay marraige as I see it:  Obama ’96 was for it, and I think Obama ’09 is too.  Unfortunately, Republicans have been so ridiculously successful in making a wedge out “fear teh gay”, that pretty much every nationial level pol with a standard demographic constituency has to tack to the “moderate” center, thus all this “oppose gay marriage” but support civil union crap.  I hate that we have to tolerate such equivocations, but it’s the sad reality.

    You know, I have really hard time dealing with the gay marraige issue, largely because it seems like such a complete fucking no-brainer to me.  I can’t for the life of me find a legitimate reason in the opposition.  This is a cut and dried, factory direct civil rights issue.  LGBT’s should be able to marry (in a religious setting if they so choose), adopt, fuck, fight, divorce, and have the exact same access to all the joy and suffering that adult relationships are heir to.  A position contrary simply defies reason.  I just can’t believe that Obama doesn’t in his heart of hearts believe that gays should have total equality, given his background.

    When I was in high school, I worked summers as a lifeguard at our small-town public pool.  Part of the job was to give swimming lessons to kids.  In some ways, I feel like we progressives are having to get the uhhh, “less evolved” half of the electorate to dip their toes into this issue, and little by little, get them to wade in.  Invariably, the kids learn it isn’t really dangerous after all.  Grabbing a skiddish six year old by the trunks and tossing him into the deep end won’t do anything but scare the snot out of them.

    P.S.  I’ve got two kids home with flu today, and am myself running a 102+ fever.  Apologies if I’ve made absolutely zero sense here.

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