This week, the race to win the future has become a battle over the past. On their respective paths to the White House, President Obama faces continuing pressure over his opportunistic flip-flop on same-sex marriage, while Republican rival Mitt Romney attempts to relitigate the auto bailout in his favor.
Let's start with the president. Obama's troubles over his "evolving" stance on gay rights aren't going away; since we wrote about this issue Monday it's only gotten more air. The background:?In a 1996 survey, Obama came out in favor of such legislation. Now he's tiptoeing through the tulips, seemingly unable to verbalize the beliefs of his past self.
"I favor legalizing same-sex marriages," he wrote then, "and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." Now it's something he "wrestle[s] with," a semantic matter of "understanding ... the traditional definitions of marriage."
Obama is struggling against history on this one, and even Republicans -- who generally oppose the policy themselves -- are joining in on the condemnation. "Either you are for something or you are against it," former New York Gov. George Pataki accused yesterday. "Obama seems to want to have it both ways."
Indeed he does, though that might imply an evolution on bisexual marriage, at the least. We haven't seen that either.
For his part, Romney is clear on his present anti-equality stance. "It's a position I've had for some time, and I don't intend to make any adjustments at this point," he said on Monday. Romney may be generally cagey, but we believe he's bound to this stance. He has, after all, signed the National Organization for Marriage pledge to add anti-gay language to the Constitution.
Meanwhile, following a week in which he criticized Obama over credit-taking in the successful raid on bin?Laden, Romney now claims specious credit of his own. Romney would like a pat on the back for the current strength of the auto industry despite opposing a bailout at the height of fallout from the mortgage collapse. "I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back," Romney said on Monday.
We're sure you will. But is it deserved? That seems less clear, in part due to Romney's vague and shifting positions on the subject. "He's been on every side of the auto rescue at different times and said different things," says Steve Rattner, the auto czar who oversaw the bailouts, "so it's hard to know what he honestly thinks."
This much is clear: In 2008, Romney and Obama each agreed that car companies ought to go through the bankruptcy process. The key difference -- and this is important -- is that Romney wanted to let private interests handle it, while Obama argued for billions in federal tax dollars.
Romney fought the Obama bailout in the strongest possible terms. In a highly publicized New York Times Op-Ed from 2008 called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," he argued that following the administration prescription would mean "kiss[ing] the American automotive industry goodbye." Oh, and also this: "Its demise will be virtually guaranteed."
Obama went for the politically risky bailout, and it seems he made the right choice. At the time, with financial firms stretched to the point of collapse, there simply was no private money to be lent. "Without government support in one fashion or another, there were no sources of funding," argued Arthur J. Gonzalez, the judge who managed the Chrysler bankruptcy.
Romney was proven wrong, but still wants the credit; Obama was on the right side of history, but now has devolved. Two politicians, two different historical revisions. When will they understand? Politics lives in the present.
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