BY JOHN FUND – When he was in the Illinois legislature, Barack Obama developed a reputation for voting “present” on tough issues rather than taking a firm stand. “In the Illinois state Senate, Senator Obama voted 130 times ‘present,'” said Hillary Rodham Clinton in one of her debates with Mr. Obama. “That’s not yes, that’s not no. That’s maybe.”

Some political observers were reminded of that record over the weekend as the White House struggled with what seemed like two different positions on the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

On Friday, President Obama appeared to endorse construction of the mosque in a speech to Muslim-Americans. But after Democratic candidates complained they would now be forced to side with or oppose their president on an unpopular issue, Mr. Obama appeared to change course the next day. Speaking in Florida on Saturday, the president said, “I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque [near Ground Zero].”

At best, the Obama White House has put out a muddled message on the mosque. Aides insist President Obama has been consistent on the issue. “One of the reasons we work for him is that he doesn’t sit there with a political calculator on these big, tough issues that come along,” an advisor insisted to Politico.com. “There was never any hesitation about the decision, and he has absolutely no regrets about it.”

In reality, Mr. Obama has taken three distinct positions on the mosque. First, his office insisted for weeks he wouldn’t comment on “a local issue.” Then in the view of most observers he came down squarely on the side of those seeking to build the mosque. Now he is trying to support the right of those to build the mosque, while refusing to comment on the wisdom of the decision. We are clearly seeing the reemergence of what syndicated radio talk show host John Batchelor calls “the ever-Present Obama”–a man who claims to stand on principle while simultaneously trying to avoid any political fallout.

John Fund is a political columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

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