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Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

Former White House advisor David Axelrod walks into the West Wing of the White House on Nov. 15, 2013 in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images Former White House advisor David Axelrod walks into the West Wing of the White House on Nov. 15, 2013 in Washington.

A striking admission of political dishonesty from the keeper of the Obama flame

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.

The insider’s account provides the clearest look yet at Obama’s long-established flip-flop, one of the blemishes on his record as a progressive. The admission of Obama’s embrace of deception also calls into question the President’s stated embrace of a new kind of politics in 2008, when he promised to be unlike other politicians who change their views to match the political winds. “Having prided himself on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position,” Axelrod writes. “He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews.”

As a state senate candidate in 1996, Obama filled out a questionnaire saying “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” But 12 years later as a candidate for president, Obama told Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church that marriage could only extend to heterosexual couples. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said at the time. “Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

After two years in office, Obama began telling reporters he was “evolving” on the issue, and supported the repeal of the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act.

But Obama didn’t publicly support same-sex marriages as president until Vice President Joe Biden got out ahead of him in an interview with Meet the Press, saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with the unions.

In Axelrod’s account, Obama was “fully evolved” more than five months before, telling his aides to find a way for him to speak on the issue, even as campaign manager Jim Messina warned him it could cost the state of North Carolina.

Yet if Obama’s views were “evolving” publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors. The president was champing at the bit to announce his support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed—and having watched him struggle with this issue for years, I was ready, too.

Axelrod’s new book goes on sale February 10.

Read next: Three Big Questions About Obama’s Military Force Request

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