If you’re going to write about the multiple tergiversations of Joe Biden over abortion, as I did last week, you’d better rush your copy into print as soon as possible lest it become outdated before anyone can read it. Within twenty-four hours of my noticing on Thursday his flip-flop-flip over the Hyde Amendment, Mr. Biden flopped again, reversing his reversal of his previous reversal and deciding that he was now against the ban on public funding for abortion that he had previously been for—after turning against it once already last month. Or so at least people had supposed before he re-affirmed his support for Hyde on Wednesday. Fortunately, I think I can say that attentive readers will have gathered from my article on the earlier reversal that it wouldn’t surprise me, as indeed it didn’t, when he switched back again on Friday.
Nor, I think I may say now, does it surprise me that in reporting the latest revision of the previous revision of his views, the media chose to ignore all but the most recent of his flip-flops, treating his latest turn against the Hyde Amendment as if it were the only one. “Joe Biden asked for a pen. Then he reversed a position he’d held for four decades,” headlined The Washington Post about a position which by my count he had held, most recently, for considerably less than four days. Likewise, The New York Times headlined an analysis piece by Katie Glueck, Jonathan Martin, and Alexander Burns: “Behind Biden’s Reversal on Hyde Amendment: Lobbying, Backlash and an Ally’s Call.” Two days earlier, Ms. Glueck had reported that Mr. Biden’s re-affirmation of his support for the amendment on Wednesday, before his de-affirmation on Friday, had been, according to an anonymous campaign official, a result of the candidate’s misunderstanding of a question put to him last month, when he had only claimed to be against the Hyde Amendment because he thought the questioner had been asking not about Hyde but about the Mexico City rule, which prohibits federal aid to overseas organizations for the provision of abortion. That’s no doubt the reason for “reversal,” singular.
The Post, too, gave the former vice president a mulligan on his previous volte face, but then added to the confusion by attributing to him, in an op-ed by Karen Tumulty, a reversal that he hadn’t made, at least not explicitly, of his claim, along with that of many other Roman Catholic Democrats, of being “personally” opposed to abortion even though he was in favor of its continuing to be legal. “The edges of the debate are being more sharply defined,” wrote Ms. Tumulty. “When Biden last ran for president a dozen years ago, he boasted of having found a “middle-of-the-road position on abortion.” In 2020, he is discovering, such a place no longer exists.”
Note the assumption here, which is shared by the troika of busy analyzers of The New York Times as mentioned above, that the candidate’s view, not just of the Hyde Amendment but of legal abortion itself, is something he has “found”—no doubt after an exhaustive search for a position that was most likely to please the largest number of his potential supporters—and not something arrived at out of deep conviction. Readers might believe, I guess, that his previous turn against Hyde was just a misunderstanding, but they obviously couldn’t be expected to believe that any position he took subsequently had arisen out of his wrestling with his conscience.