Flip Flop? Obama Acknowledges ‘Shift in Emphasis’

By Jennifer Parker

Jul 15, 2008 3:45pm

ABC News’ Jennifer Parker Reports: Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that he has made a "shift in emphasis" on some issues during his campaign but argues Sen. John McCain’s reversals are much more severe.

In an attempt to broaden his appeal before the general election, Obama raised reversed an earlier pledge and voting in the Senate to give legal immunity to phone companies that took part in warrantless wiretapping after the Sept. 11 attacks — a move that raised the ire of his liberal allies. 

It was the latest in a series of perceived shifts in policy Obama has taken on issues that range from gun control, the death penalty, and his newly voiced support for President Bush’s faith-based programs giving taxpayer money to religious groups.

Asked during an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill about his position on wiretapping legislation and his support for the Supreme Court decision striking down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, Obama initially argued there hasn’t been any "wild shifts" in his public policy positions.

"I do think that this notion that somehow we’ve had wild shifts in my positions is simply inaccurate," Obama told Ifill in an interview that will air tonight on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. "You mentioned the gun position.  I’ve been talking about the Second Amendment being an individual right for the last year and a half.  So there wasn’t a shift there." 

But when Ifill pressed Obama on his refusal to accept public financing that would limit spending during the presidential campaign, despite his earlier promise to take public financing, the presumptive Democratic nominee said, "Well, campaign finance, there’s no doubt that that was a shift in recognizing that we could not broker a deal with the Republicans that would prevent the Republican National Committee or the Republican Governors Association or all these other organizations, that are already spending millions of dollars against us, that we could not contain them within a public financing system."

"So the broader point, Gwen, is if you compare sort of my shift in emphasis on issues that I’ve been proposing for years, like say, faith-based initiatives, which have raised questions in the press, if you compare that to John McCain … if you compare that to John McCain’s complete reversal on oil drilling, complete reversal on George Bush’s tax cuts, complete reversal on immigration where he said he wouldn’t even vote for his own bill, that I think is a pretty hard case to make that somehow I’ve been shifting substantially relative to John McCain," Obama said.

The Republican Party reacted Tuesday, blasting Obama in an emailed statement sent to reporters.

“Who is Barack Obama kidding? Obama’s excuses for breaking his promise on public financing defy honesty and reality. Obama should drop the pretenses and admit what everyone knows: He abandoned his principles in order to gain a political advantage,” said Republican National Committee Alex Conant.

ABC News’ George Sanchez contributed to this report.

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