Michael Tomasky makes a novel argument in the Daily Beast on the debt ceiling debate: President Obama's stance isn't hypocritical now because it was hypocritical before when it was made by Sen. Obama.
Tomasky writes: "Yes, he did cast such a vote (opposing a 2006 increase), but no, he's not a hypocrite, not even a small one."
Why? Because Obama's action was "purely symbolic" and done for cynical political reasons. He and his fellow Senate Democrats "had no real intention of winning."
Seriously, that is his argument.
Here's the background: In March 2006, Democrats were staunchly opposed to raising the ceiling and slamming President Bush for moving to do so. Among those on the don't-raise-it side was a certain junior senator from Illinois.
At the time, Obama said: "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure ... Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren."
The hike passed the Senate by a narrow 52-48 margin, with Obama voting against.
That was then. Today, Obama says it would be "irresponsible" for Congress not to go along with raising the debt and compares opposition to it to extortion.
Conservatives have enjoyed pointing out this flip-flop. In 2011, White House spokesman David Plouffe was obliged to say that Obama now "believes that (2006) vote was a mistake."
Tomasky clearly thinks Plouffe gave too much ground. He writes that because the Democrats "cast symbolic votes to force Republicans to vote to increase the debt limit," those votes meant "nothing" and bear "no resemblance to what’s going on today."
His underlying point is that Democrats never used the vote in an attempt to negotiate anything with the president, as Republicans are doing now. The Democrats just wanted to score some cheap political points on Bush.
Excuse me, but that is not evidence that vindicates Obama. Merriam-Webster defines hypocrisy as "the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do" — which is exactly what Obama did.
Changing a stance on an issue can be forgiven if the person has had genuine change of heart. But Tomasky is arguing precisely the opposite:
That even at the time Obama knew what he was voting for would be dangerous to the economy if it actually happened. The fact that he expected others to save him from the consequences of his stance only tells us how cynical he was from the start.