Obama then versus Obama now
January 15, 2013By Dick Polman
Here's a classic congressional obstructionist, a guy who opposes raising the debt ceiling, who doesn't seem to care whether the government has the ability to pay its bills:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure....Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve bettere. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."
The date was March 16, 2006. The speaker, on the Senate floor, was Barack Obama.
But that was Obama then. Here was Obama yesterday, at his presidential press conference, demanding that the House and Senate raise the debt ceiling:
"To even entertain the idea (of refusing to raise the ceiling), of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd....We've got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here: They can act responsibly, and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis....We are not a deadbeat nation."
His flip flop prompts some interesting questions. Which beliefs are we supposed to view as sincere: his '06 senatorial argument that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is noble and moral? Or his '13 presidential argument that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is "irresponsible" and "absurd?"
Obama's '06 No vote surfaced briefly at the press conference yesterday, when a reporter brought it up: "Mr. President, as you well know, sir, finding votes for (raising) the debt ceiling can sometimes be complicated. You yourself, as a member of the Senate, voted against a debt ceiling increase." Obama responded with a broad critique of the current standoff, without addressing his senatorial episode. He has done so in the past, however. Back in April 2011, ABC News asked him about that '06 vote, and here's what he said in reply:
"That was just an example of a new senator, you know, making what is a political vote, as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I'm the first one to acknowledge it....I think that it's important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a president."
Good grief, no wonder people are cynical about politics. If you read Obama's '06 speech (via The Congressional Record), he sure sounds honest. His refusal to raise the debt ceiling sounds darn high-minded. But, turns out, it was just "a political vote." Senate Republicans had enough votes to raise the ceiling for President Bush anyway, and that enabled the rookie Democratic senator to vote No in sync with the rest of the minority Democrats (including No voters Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton).
Obama was fine with his "political vote" when he cast it. But today he's not fine with lawmakers who want to cast their own political votes. He said so yesterday: "We're going to have to make sure that people are looking at this (debt ceiling issue) in a responsible way, rather than just through the lens of politics."
You see the problem. His current disdain for congressional Republicans playing "politics" with the debt ceiling is undercut by his own history of playing politics with the debt ceiling. His current high-road presidential posture on this issue is undercut by his own admission of traveling the low road. He was seemingly sincere back in '06 when he voted No, yet he sounds sincere today when he's urging lawmakers to vote Yes. No wonder his powers of persuasion are less than optimal, when dealing with Capitol Hill.
By the way, the flip flops go both ways. As soon as Senator Obama finished speaking, Republican Charles Grassley insisted that raising the ceiling to aid the Republican president was the high-minded option: "Raising the debt limit is necessary to preserve the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. We cannot as a Congress pass spending bills and tax bills and then refuse to pay our bills. Refusing to raise the debt limit is like refusing to pay your credit card bill - after you’ve used your credit card."
Obama basically echoed Republican Grassley yesterday; he even crafted the same kind of colloquial metaphor: "You don’t go out to dinner and then, you know, eat all you want and then leave without paying the check."
Bottom line: Regardess of party, our elected leaders will typically tailor their sincerity to the exigencies of the moment. On the debt ceiling, as on most issues, it's principle in the service of politics.
Right-wingers without a clue have been citing Chuck Schumer as proof that Democrats will oppose Chuck Hagel's SecDef nomination. You know, as in: "It's not just Republicans who don't want Hagel. Look at Chuck Schumer!" Well, so much for that fantasy.
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