Flip-Flopping Vs. Growing In Office

At a time when Mitt Romney is being pounded in the press on the flimsiest possible grounds, the Associated Press takes a look at Barack Obama’s record to judge the extent to which his currently-expressed views are different from those he has espoused in the past. The results are eye-opening, as Obama has shifted ground across a broad range of issues. But the AP is quick to assure us that these changes are nuanced and evolutionary:

The Democratic senator from Illinois hasn’t made any fundamental policy shifts, such as changing his view on whether abortion should be legal.

The contrast with Romney, who has been officially dubbed a flip-flopper by the mainstream media, is explicit:

Political 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 or calculating.

But the AP’s own recitation shows that Obama has changed his position on far more issues than Romney: the death penalty, a ban on handguns, the Patriot Act, socialized (“single payer”) medicine, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. As for the AP’s assertion that Obama’s flip-flops haven’t been “major shifts,” why not? He used to be in favor of socialized medicine, but now isn’t. He called the Patriot Act a “shoddy and dangerous law,” then voted to renew it. He opposed a federal ban on same-sex marriage, then supported it. By what standard are these not “major shifts”?
Further, the AP’s investigation raises serious issues about Obama’s credibility. Obama now seeks to distance himself from positions he took in 1996; he claims that a staffer filled out a form for him and “misrepresented” Obama’s views on a number of issues:

Obama’s 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 and more.

That claim, however, is dubious at best:

IVI-IPO officials 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.

It is deeply ironic that, at a time when Mitt Romney’s credibility is being questioned by the AP and others, based on trivial and irrelevant discrepancies in Romney’s account of events that happened 44 years ago, evidence that Obama is lying about positions that he himself took in 1996 is dismissed with a shrug.
Why the disparate treatment? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Associated Press covers candidates based on their party affiliation.
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