Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flip-Flopping Your Way to Consistency: A Constant Evolution

"Whatever words I say, I will always love you."
-The Cure

When President Obama came out of the closet as a supporter of gay marriage last week it was little surprise that PolitiFact weighed in with a "Full-Flop" rating. Considering the widespread attention Obama's announcement received, coupled with his vacillation, the rating appears to be a no-brainer:

Image from

Obama's many different positions on gay marriage are common knowledge. We joked on Twitter that PolitiFact would be unveiling the Evolv-O-Meter, but how could PolitiFact have given any rating other than "Full-Flop"? The problem is that, according to PolitiFact, Obama's flip-flop is actually an example of how constant his views have been:
While the president has consistently supported civil rights for gay couples-
Wait, what? Could you repeat that?
 Obama, a consistent supporter of civil rights for gay couples...
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Only PolitiFact could manage to shower praise on Obama for consistency, twice, in an article that describes his current position as a Full-Flop. This also raises an interesting question: Has PolitiFact determined that gay marriage is not a civil rights issue? That's a rating I missed.  PolitiFact has  minimized Obama's changing view of gay marriage and presented it as a minor nuisance in the statutory minutiae of the debate. Heck, Obama has always been pro-gay rights! Just not that right. Obama's positions cannot be simultaneously consistent and evolving. If Obama has always been a consistent supporter of civil rights for gay couples, and Obama's stance on gay marriage has changed, then it follows that gay marriage is not a civil right. Considering the controversial nature of the gay marriage issue, you'd think PolitiFact would let us know when they determined the status of such a key sticking point in the debate. It also puts PolitiFact at odds with Andrew Sullivan. Check out his over-the-top article in which he describes Obama's announcement as leaving him teary-eyed and speechless. Sullivan notes the contradiction in Obama's evolving positions:
"[Obama] said he was for equality, but not marriage. Five years later, he sees - as we all see - that you cannot have one without the other."
Sorry, Mr. Sullivan, but according to Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact you can.

Another question Obama's comments raise is just what is he supporting? A recent state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in North Carolina was overwhelmingly passed after only a nominal effort from Obama (robocalls) opposing it. Notice too, that despite PolitiFact referring to the announcement as a "historic shift", Obama's support is personal, not policy.
At a certain point, I've just concluded that-- for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that-- I think same-sex couples should be able to get married...And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue...

This is starting to sound more like a Truth-O-Meter item: Is it true that Obama supports gay marriage? While it's unlikely Obama will "introduce legislation making gay marriage legal in all 50 states" as Megan McCain suggested, one wonders if it's true that an evolution in personal feelings while simultaneously rejecting political involvement actually qualifies as "support." Unfortunately, PolitiFact declined to sort out the truth of these questions.

To repeatedly commend Obama for his consistency in an article highlighting his contradictions is puzzling. It gives the impression PolitiFact wants to present his new, contradictory position as a minor adjustment rather than the Full-Flop they put on the meter. This type of sugarcoating is more consistent with an editorial piece than an objective review of the facts.

The bottom line is no matter what Obama says, PolitiFact will be there to put it in the best light. As the election approaches, readers should remember that PolitiFact is not a dispassionate witness to the political process. They are cheerleaders pulling for the home team, adept at turning every setback into a positive rally. Their motivations are expressed in gratuitous commentary best reserved for the opinion pages.

Don't believe the hype.

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