Sunday, June 29, 2008
By GINGER ADAMS OTIS
It's back and forth for Barack Obama.
The candidate of change has changed some of his own positions in recent weeks, raising the risk he'll be labeled a flip-flopper on hot-button issues that look as if they will play a central role in the general election.
First it was his about-face on public financing.
Last week, Obama insisted "I never said that I was definitely going to be in the public-financing system."
But his statement that he would "aggressively pursue" a public-financing deal with the GOP was widely reported when he made it at the start of the primary season.
Obama blamed a "broken" system and rivals who are "masters at gaming" it for his sudden turn in direction - not the enormous advantage he'll have over Republican front-runner John McCain in fund-raising.
Next up was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - a bill that would protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for cooperating with the federal effort to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects.
The bill's provision for "retroactive immunity" raised hackles among Democrats in Congress.
Last year, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said: "Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity."
As recently as February, while campaigning in the Maryland and Virginia primaries, the Illinois senator said he refused "to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty."
Fast-forward to June 20: Obama's far-left base was shocked to hear the candidate announce his support of new FISA bill because of the "legitimate threats we face."
Even his pledge to "carefully monitor the program" from the White House didn't mollify many of his outraged liberal backers, including MoveOn.org, an Internet group that has done a lot of fund-raising for Obama.
Obama's campaign staff has denied he is moving to the political center in a bid to steal votes from McCain.
But Obama's carefully nuanced reaction to Thursday's Supreme Court decision striking down a 32-year-old ban on handguns in Washington, DC, seemed designed to split the controversial issue down the middle.
"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms," Obama said after the ruling,
"But I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through commonsense, effective safety measures."
His waffling set off a fusillade of press releases from McCain's camp. "Does [Obama] believe that the DC handgun ban was constitutional or unconstitutional? We can't tell, and [he] won't say," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.
Obama offered up another carefully worded response earlier in the week when he sided with conservative Supreme Court justices who opposed a ban on executing child rapists.
"I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes," Obama said after the decision. But back in 1996, he had said that capital punishment "does little to deter crime."