If he wanted, the
Barack Obama of today could have a pretty good debate
with the Barack Obama of yesterday.
They could argue
about whether the death penalty is ever appropriate.
Whether it makes sense to ban handguns. They might explore
their differences on the Patriot Act or parental
notification of abortion.
And they could
debate whether Obama has flip-flopped, changed some of his
views as he learned more over the years, or is simply
answering questions with more detail and nuance now
that he is running for president.
senator from Illinois hasn't made any fundamental policy
shifts, such as changing his view on whether abortion should
be legal. But his decade in public office and an
Associated Press review of his answers to a
questionnaire show positions changing in smaller ways.
the shifts could suggest a liberal, inexperienced
lawmaker gradually adjusting to the realities of what could
be accomplished, first in the Illinois legislature and
then the U.S. Senate.
On the other
hand, political rivals could accuse him of abandoning
potentially unpopular views or of trying to disguise his
Take the death
In 1996, when he
was running for a seat in the Illinois Senate, Obama's
campaign filled out a questionnaire flatly stating that he
did not support capital punishment. By 2004, his
position was that he supported the death penalty ''in
theory'' but felt the system was so flawed that a
national moratorium on executions was required.
Today, he doesn't
talk about a moratorium and says the death penalty is
appropriate for ''some crimes -- mass murder, the rape and
murder of a child -- so heinous that the community is
justified in expressing the full measure of its
another crime-related issue, gun control.
questionnaire asked whether he supported banning the
manufacture, sale and possession of handguns in Illinois.
The campaign's answer was straightforward: ''Yes.''
Eight years later, he said on another questionnaire
that ''a complete ban on handguns is not politically
practicable'' but reasonable restrictions should be imposed.
record in Illinois shows strong support for gun
restrictions, such as limiting handgun purchases to one a
month, but no attempts to ban them. Today, he stands
by his support for controls while trying to reassure
hunters that he has no interest in interfering with
their access to firearms.
presidential campaign contends that voters can't learn
anything about his views from the 1996 questionnaire,
which was for an Illinois good-government group known
as the IVI-IPO. Aides say Obama did not fill out the
questionnaire and instead it was handled by a staffer who
misrepresented his views on gun control, the death penalty,
has a consistent record on the key issues facing our
country,'' said spokesman Ben LaBolt. ''Even conservative
columnists have said they'd scoured Obama's record for
inconsistencies and found there were virtually none.''
say it's inconceivable that Obama would have let a
staffer turn in a questionnaire with incorrect answers. The
group interviewed Obama in person about his answers
before endorsing him in that 1996 legislative race,
and he didn't suggest then or anytime since that the
questionnaire needed to be corrected, they said.
Since he came to
Washington, one piece of legislation that raises
questions is the USA Patriot Act, the security measure
approved after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
When he ran for
the Senate, Obama called the act a ''shoddy and dangerous
law'' that should be replaced. After he took office, the
Senate considered an update that Obama criticized as
only a modest improvement and one that was inferior to
ended up voting for that renewal and update of the Patriot
issue is health care.
Obama was asked
in the 1996 questionnaire whether he supported a
single-payer health plan, in which everyone gets health
coverage through a single government program. The
response was, ''Yes in principle,'' and probably best
to have the federal government set up such a program
instead of the state.
care is a hot issue, and Obama does not support creating a
single government program for everyone. In fact, rivals
Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards have
criticized his health proposal for potentially leaving
millions of people uninsured because they wouldn't be
forced to buy insurance.
analysts don't see much danger for Obama in the changes.
They aren't major shifts akin to Republican Mitt
Romney's changes on abortion and gun control, so
voters aren't likely to see the senator as indecisive
''I think they
allow for some adjustment,'' said Dante Scala, a political
science professor at the University of New Hampshire. ''It
depends on whether they're changing the core of what
In the general
election, the Republican nominee would be more likely to
go after the first-term senator on another front.
''If Obama is the
Democratic candidate, I don't think the Republicans
will be attacking him on a particular issue,'' said Dianne
Bystrom, director of the Center for Women and Politics
at Iowa State University. ''They'd be attacking him on
Democratic opponents, concerned about turning off voters who
dislike negative campaigning, haven't been aggressively
using his shifts against him. Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton's campaign does quietly argue that they amount
to a pattern that should concern the public.
Phil Singer noted Obama's positions on handguns, health
care and the Patriot Act. ''Voters will ultimately decide
whether these are significant shifts in his views or
not,'' he said.
One area where
Obama's campaign acknowledges his views have changed is on
the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition
of same-sex marriages. In January 2004, Obama said he
was opposed to repealing the law. By February, one
month later, he supported a repeal.
His campaign says
Obama always thought the Defense of Marriage Act was a
bad law but didn't believe it needed to be repealed. After
hearing from gay friends how hurtful the law was, he
decided it needed to be taken off the books. (AP)