July 18, 2008

the amateur's guide to flip-flopping

John Kerry lost the last presidential election, in many people's estimation, because of his being tagged as a "flip-flopper".

John Kerry was a punter compared to the leftist demi-god messiah, Barack Obama.

In the last few weeks Obama has flipped and flopped around, with such astonishing speed, on matters of such importance like the war in Iraq, that it's actually difficult keep up with his ever changing positions and positioning.

He has twisted himself into knots at this point, as a master political contortionist.

After saying whatever he needed to in order to lock up the far left base of the Democratic party by running to the left of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, Obama shrewdly and cynically deduced that he had to move to the political center in order to begin the process of appealing to the non-far left leaning contingent of voters he would be required to successfully romance in order to win a general election. He would at least need to soften some of what many people correctly imagined as some of his more far left positions into more palatable forms for the mass consumption of the general electorate. His campaign I'm sure would argue that this all is merely a matter of emphasis. You see, by emphasizing the more conservative elements of his existing platform he could soften his hard left edge without actually changing his fundamental positions. This explanation is of course hogwash. Obama has in recent weeks, changed wholesale positions on major issues. On issues about which none are simply so nuanced as to have such conveniently ambiguous parameters that there is no real way of knowing what is triangulation and what is the simple adopting of the direct opposing position. Let's rundown Barack Obama and his 'flip flopper's guide to the galaxy'.

• (Iraq) In the case of the war in Iraq, Obama has changed from one position to another and then back to the original position in the span of 48 hours. He based his entire primary campaign against Hillary as the true anti-war candidate, but in the last few weeks has now said that he would be making "refinements" in his Iraq policy. Refinements that include listening to the commanders fighting the war rather than imposing the arbitrary timetable for withdrawal that was trumpeted as his position in the primary campaign. But now he has flipped back to the original position because of the outcry coming from his far left anti-war base who have no time for the argument that our course of action in Iraq should not be dictated by leftist politicians making academic pronouncements and judgments about a tactical and strategic military situation. This is an example of what I call the compound flip flop, where's there's a flop, then a flip and then another flop back to the original position.

•(FISA) Many of Obama's most ardent supporters have found their candidate's blatant flip-flop on the issue of FISA wiretaps and telecom immunity difficult to stomach. In the primary, Obama promised to filibuster a bill to protect telephone companies from liability for their cooperation with national security wiretaps, then he flipped and voted for the exact legislation he promised to rebuke. The diametric flip flop.

• (Gun Control/2nd amendment) After a recent supreme court decision lifting a ban on handguns in Washington DC, Obama was seen pronouncing that he "has been a consistent supporter of the second amendment." (By the way, whenever you hear someone say that, "they have always been consistent" or John Kerry's favorite "let me be clear", you have a clear indication that the person making those remarks is in fact in the process of flip flopping.) Shortly after declaring support for the second amendment out of nowhere Obama then essentially recanted by attempting to straddle the issue by saying that he was also in fact for the regulation of hand guns by the federal government. The 2nd amendment is unambiguous. It states that The government "shall not infringe" on a citizens right to keep and bear arms. Either you support the 2nd amendment or you do not. But Obama on this is clumsily trying to triangulate by appealing to both polar opposite positions. Instead of triangulation though all he really is doing is flipping and flopping back and forth so fast that it becomes so difficult to track that people lose interest in actually figuring out where he stands on the issue. The high speed flip flop.

• (Public campaign funding) One of Obama's signature positions, as the self declared standard bearer of the "new politics", was his promise not to take private money for his campaign. That was before he saw just how much money he could raise privately. He now has completely flipped on the issue by spurning the public finance system he previously promoted. The signature issue flip-flop.

• (an undivided Jerusalem) When speaking to the Israeli lobby in a speech a few weeks ago Obama declared that he was fully supportive of an undivided Jerusalem. Then the Palestinians reacted badly and Obama flipped over to the mindset that Jerusalem should be shared by both Jews and Palestinians. The foreign policy gaffe flip-flop.

• (direct talks with Ahmadinejad, Chavez) At the You Tube debate last year, Obama famously declared that unlike the Bush administration he was in favor of direct talks with all of the leaders of various rogue nations. Obama indicated that he would be for talks with Ahmadinejad, Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez ,and Kim Jung Il with "no preconditions". These days he has heavily backpedaled into a back flip on the issue. He has done a back pedal flip flop on this issue whereas he now would want some form of "pre-conditions" before meeting with the various rogue nation heads of state mentioned in the original YouTube question.

• (town hall meetings) McCain challenged Obama to a series of town hall meetings style debates where both candidates would be subject to direct questions from the general public. Obama, not wanting to look like he was backing out of a confrontation with the lowly John McCain, initially entertained the idea to only later and quietly deny the request. Apparently Obama isn't as much of a fan of town hall meetings as his book "The Audacity of Hope" would have us believe. There's a passage in the book explaining how and why he loves town hall meetings so much. That was before he might be subjected to difficult questions I suppose. The hypocritical duality flip flop.

• (Partial birth abortions) Obama was once the champion of abortion in all of its grisly forms. Now he seems to be having doubts about the practice of partial birth abortion. Again, either you support partial birth abortion or you don't. The abortion related flip-flop.

And unlike McCain changing on domestic drilling, for example, who may do so because of drastic changes in the facts on the ground, Obama has been wildly flip-flopping for no other reason than political expediency. In other words, Obama needs to be able to adopt whatever stance at whatever time for whatever political reason on whatever issue.

This is flip flopping redefined. 'Change (of position) you can believe in' indeed.

Vive la flip-flop!


Chris said...

Sorry for the delay Jaz but I’ve been busy with so much stuff lately. The first thing that jumps out at me when reading your post here is that it appears you’ve switched your definition of flip flop. During our routine exchanges about Mitt Romney’s ever changing positions you vigilantly tried to argue that a flip flop was only a flip flop if a person did it within a matter of seconds or in mid-speech and not over a period of time including months or even years. So I’m glad to see you are agreeing that a flip flop is a change of position usually in a generally different direction.

I’m sure you’ll say that I’m attacking the messenger or changing the subject or some sort of argumentative turnaround, but hopefully you see the seriousness, not to mention the hystericalness, of someone trying to argue about someone else’s changes in political policy when they themselves have little experience at staying grounded. I do welcome your flip flop on a flip flop and only hope you now apply it to all candidates and not just Democratic ones.

Iraq- I fail to see where Obama has flip flopped on Iraq. If using the word “refine” is a flip flop then surely McCain now embracing Obama’s approach to more troops in Afghanistan is one also. In order for this to be a flip flop, wouldn’t Obama have had to say that he would never consider the military commanders on the ground when making decisions about Iraq? He’s never said that. They way you make it sound is as if Obama has said that he didn't care about what the commanders had to say. I guess I'm not following that one.

FISA- Yes this is an Obama flip flop. I’ve said that on my site and everywhere else I’ve posted about FISA.

Gun Control- I disagree on this one. I think it’s entirely possible to support the 2nd Amendment and also support reasonable limits to weapons. I have many guns and support the right of citizens to own them but I don’t think we the people have the right to own a bazooka. I think the 2nd Amendment clearly applies to the individual but does not give the individual exclusive rights to ownership of all weapons to form a militia. Our Framers could never have comprehended the weapons we have today and thus I don’t think they would be in favor of individuals owning machine guns and ultra destructive weapons. Obama believes in the right of gun ownership but believes those rights can be limited such as in the case of handguns. Whereas I believe handguns to be perfectly legal, Obama does not. Yet we both believe there are limits to gun ownership. His starts at handguns and my starts somewhere between automatic weapons and hand grenades. As such I’ve never been accused of NOT being pro 2nd Amendment. I don’t know of any circumstances where Obama has changed his position on handguns or gun ownership in general.

Public Financing- I also must disagree to an extent. McCain also made the pledge to accept public financing and then broke his promise long before Obama. Had McCain held up his pledge I think the argument could very well be made against Obama. But since McCain is accepting both public financing and private financing to fund his campaign, I see no reason for Obama to make do on something the Republicans long backed out of. If Obama flipped then so did McCain on this one.

Jerusalem- Please provide a link where Obama said he was in support of an undivided Jerusalem and where he later recanted.

Direct Talks- I disagree here as well. It's my understanding that without preconditions means with everything still on the table including military force. It's also my understanding that George Bush has now accepted Obama's position by sending diplomats to meet with Iran. And just today Rice met with North Korean leaders to TALK. Please provide a link here as well showing me where Obama has "back pedaled." If anyone has back pedaled it's George Bush and John McSame because they now appear to openly embrace direct talks with terrorist states.

Town Hall Meetings- This is a smart move by Obama and no way is a flip flop. A flip flop would be if Obama had agreed to do some meetings and then later changed his mind. No where did he agree to it and no where did he change his mind. He does town halls every day and does very well at them. And just like his book says, he enjoys them and encourages debates on the issues at them. But not wanting McLame with him is a media decision and forces McSame to go out and raise more money to keep up with Obama. This is not a flip flop.

Abortion- Please provide a link where Obama has changed his position on this issue.

I love your ending though, you admit McCain has changed his mind on drilling but he's done so because of the facts changing on the ground, but when Obama changed his position on public financing largely because the facts on the ground were that McCain was not abiding by the pledge, it's a flip flop.

In conclusion, I agree with one Obama flip flop, a huge one too, and maybe another one with public financing but only if we can call McCain a flopper on that one as well. So at best you have listed two Obama flip flops. And to you this makes Obama twisting himself in knots and a master political contortionist. Two changes and he's all that? What would that make the 50+ flip flops listed here for McCain?

Instead of going through all the items listed in that link, I'll settle for one position McCain is the same on as what he was just two years ago. Just one item, name it.

Thanks for your response Jaz. I'll link to it on my site as well.

Jaz said...

You recall, with vivid clarity, conversations of ours that occurred 2 years ago but somehow what I said in my most previous comment has eluded you so I'll repeat it:

I'm actually someone who understands that modification of one's position over time based on changing circumstances should be allowed.

Maybe you shouldn't have castigated so thoroughly Mitt Romney for his policy shifts, because now I'm obligated to hold your guy, someone who actually has a chance to be the next president, to the same impossible standard.

So this post of mine is me holding up Obama to the same standard that you insisted applied to Romney.

I haven't really changed what I believe is fairly considered to be a flip-flop, but on the other hand your guy is not now immune from the being held up to the same standard that you seem to want apply to the likes of McCain and Romney (or anyone else worthy of your attacks). This Obama flip-flop post is some of your own medicine. I haven't changed my mind on flip flopping you see, my stance on the issue is nuanced. (As our pal John Kerry always used to like to say.)

The problem here is that term 'flip flop' is a loaded term. It's basically an extremely negative way of depicting a policy shift, a policy refinement or almost any kind of machination regarding a candidate's stance on issues.

So for purposes of this discussion I will not to use the term 'flip-flop' so that we may better get the truth of whether or not Obama has 'changed his position' on these issues. And I suppose we can discuss McCain's 'changes of positions' as well.

•(Iraq) After sifting through some of Obama's comments and responses about the war in Iraq, I can honestly tell you that I cannot tell where the man stands on the issue of arbitrary timetables vs. listening to the the commanders on the ground. After reading the transcript of the Katie Couric interview referenced in my most recent post, Obama seems to have now changed back to wanting to listen to the commanders on the ground when determining a course of action. This is the polar opposite position of imposing an arbitrary 16 month time table. Either he supports imposing a troop withdrawal timetable regardless of the circumstances on the ground or he doesn't. I'm not sure what is so confusing about this for you.

• (2nd ammendment) As discussed here Obama tried to clarify his own past statements by saying that his previous declaration on this matter was "inartful". So when he got called out on changing his position on this matter he backed away from his previous statements. At this point, I've lost interest in trying to track where he stands on the issue because I don't even buy into the idea that he actually has a stance on the issue. It's headache inducing to actually begin with the premise that he actually has a preference other than whatever benefits him politically at any given time.

• (Campaign finance) From the Boston Globe,

At the start of the general election campaign, many people believed Obama was so intent on showing his distaste for the usual political tropes - and his superiority to them - that he would go all the way to November with a message of Jimmy Carter-like pieties: hope, change, honesty.

The revelation of the past two weeks is that he's not taking that route. First he came out swinging against John McCain. Then, last week, he broke his promise to accept federal matching funds and adhere to the required spending limits.

The obvious motive is that he's discovered he can vastly outraise McCain - which wasn't clear when he pledged to follow the limits - and doesn't want to squander an advantage.

But he didn't present his decision that way. He said he was opting out of a broken system, stressing that heavy spending by shadowy independent groups had rendered campaign-finance limits meaningless.

This is half-true in the best Bill Clinton tradition: Obama is right that independent groups have corrupted the system, but he's fooling himself if he thinks he's ducking the spending limits to strike a blow for honest, above-board campaigning.

More likely, he's ducking the limits because he wants to win - a fact that seems to be dawning on Democrats (to their delight) and Republicans (to their disgust). David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, last week suggested that the GOP had chosen the wrong caricature of Obama - he's not a Carter-like naif but a Clinton-like manipulator.

Even the lefties at the Boston Globe can see what you refuse to, that Obama changed his opinion on campaign funding not for some holier than thou reasoning, rather for pure political ambition. Let's please drop the pretense on this matter.

• (an undivided Jerusalem) As pointed out here and here and here Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where said the following, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." As the left leaning folks at NPR point out, Obama has now reversed course from that declaration. So either he has changed his position on the matter, or he was blatantly lying to the AIPAC audience.

•(direct talks with Ahmadinejad, Chavez) Charles Krauthhamer explains how in order to contrast his stance from that of the Bush administration Obama appeared to favor unconditional talks with these various rogue state leaders. The YouTube question itself leaves little room for interpretation, yet somehow now the campaign has tried to go back and re interpret what Obama meant. Just face it, Obama should not have answered "Yes" to the YouTube question if he in fact does beleive that there should be any kind of "pre-conditions" whatsoever before meeting these various despots. Do we have to play the "it depends on the what the definition of what 'is' is" game on the definition of what is meant by 'preconditions'? Cannot the campaign just admit that the candidate made a mistake when answering the YouTube question? This constant revisionism and parsing is tedious when we all know that he essentially misspoke at the YouTube debate trying too hard to distance himself form the Bush administration.

• (town hall meetings) OK, so Obama never actually agreed to have town hall meetings with McCain even though, as I pointed out, the campaign did a head fake when they signaled that they would entertain the possibility only to quietly later bow out. So this wasn't a change of position I suppose, merely a pussying out. Somehow the most articulate candidate in history does not have the where-with-all to debate old man McCain one-on-one and to answer questions from the general public that have not been pre-screened and pre-approved by the campaign.

• (Partial birth abortions) As discussed here and here, Obama has "clarified" his position on late term abortion. Like many of Obama's positions, his thoughts on abortion are undergoing constant revisions depending on what the political season is calling for. When running against Hillary, Obama was even more pro abortion that she. Now that Hillary is out of the picture Obama has begun to approach what many people believe is a more reasonable approach to the issue.

As far as McCain goes, maybe I'll discuss that in greater detail in a later post. But as you know I'm no great fan of McCain, who I viewed as thin-skinned and petty during the Republican primary. And like you, McCain seems to want to apply varying standards of flip-flopping depending on who is being discussed. While the McCain campaign constantly blasted Romney as flip-flopper and were the sponsors of the Romney flip flop dolphin that plagued Romney at every campaign stop, their guy was busy adopting whatever the most politically expedient position was. McCain has 'evolved' on everything from illegal immigration, tax cuts, to most recently domestic drilling. So I'm quite happy to concede that Obama is the moral equivalent of McCain. Both are typical politicians, revising their positions based on whatever the political climate calls for.

Chris said...

The conversation where you define your version of what a flip flop is in regards to its most beneficial application to Big Love Mitt Romney wasn't two years ago. It was four months ago. In all honesty, you're just making stuff up here. Where did I ever say the standard I used for Romney shouldn't be applied to Obama? I've done nothing but insist all candidates be held to the standard term of a flip flop.

If I was so against holding Obama to a standard flip flop definition then why in the world did I say that he has flip flopped on FISA? That was a flip flop over a matter of months and not in mid-speech. If I were refusing to apply my standards and held Obama to a different set of rules, such as a flip flop is only a flip flop when made in mid-speech of which you apparently still believe to be true, then I would be guilty of what you say I am. But I didn't and haven't. I do just the opposite of what you say I'm doing. I flat out say Obama flip-flopped on FISA. He did so not in mid-speech and not in a matter of seconds, but over a matter of months. But the time line doesn't matter. He changed his position in a very big way and it's a flip flop. That's the very same standard I used for Romney or any other politician or blogger such as yourself. It's a change in position generally in a different direction, and Obama's guilty of it with FISA.

In addition, I absolutely want the term flip flop used. I've gladly admitted to the flip-flop on FISA and stated I would be willing to agree to the public financing one as well so I have no problem using the term flip flop when it's used correctly and universally. Throughout all of this you are the one who has flip flopped on what a flip flop even is and you are the one who has tried to use a different set of rules depending on party affiliation.

Apply my standard to Obama all day long. And the only real change I see when applying that standard is FISA and maybe public financing.

Iraq-Obama has never said he would not consult the generals on the ground. He's always maintained that he will begin withdrawal from Iraq as soon as he takes office. Saying that he would consult the commanders on the ground when and how to best get an exit plan ready and enforced is not a flip flop. A flip flop would be if he said that he would not ever consult the commanders or if he changed his mind and said that our troops can stay forever like McSame as Bush wants.

2nd Amendment- I can't get the video to work on your link. Something is wrong with youtube at the moment. Judging from the commentary following the video I still don't see this as a flip flop on his 2nd Amendment stance. Obama has always been for restrictions on gun ownership. In fact, I wrote legislation for him five years ago concerning more handgun bans in Chicago. Obama has always believed gun ownership is a Constitutional right but that it doesn't guarantee all weapons, such as handguns. I believe it does include handguns but stops somewhere around hand grenades. So we both agree there are restrictions on the 2nd Amendment but differ where those restrictions begin and end. It's still possible to be pro 2nd Amendment and support the DC gun ban.

Jerusalem- I'm reading the NPR article and the others but I don't see where it says Obama later recanted on his undivided Jerusalem speech to AIPAC. The townhall link merely says Obama can't be trusted but doesn't say he recanted. I'm not seeing a flip flop here.

Public Financing- Obama never made a promise to accept public financing. He said he would seek a pledge from the GOP candidate that both would accept public financing. Once McCain started accepting private funds and public funds, which is illegal by the way, there was no reason for Obama to still seek that pledge. By accepting private funds McCain had already backed out of the public system. He did that before Obama clinched the nomination. Nice roundup here and here.

Direct Talks- Let's face it, the ones who have flip flopped on this are McSame and the Bush administration. Bush has now sent diplomats to North Korea and Iran for direct talks. They have adopted Obama's position on diplomacy. The Bush doctrine of preventive war is over and the GOP is now focused on a much more pro-Obama policy directive.

Town Hall Meetings- A head fake is not a flip flop. A head fake is a head fake. If a running back in football does a head fake and continues running in the same direction it's just a head fake. If that runner does a head fake and then reverses direction and runs the other way it's a head fake with a flip flop. You say Obama did a head fake, which is really a smart way to run in any play book. Obama said he would think about McCain's offer and his answer was thanks but no thanks.

Abortion Clarifying is not flip flopping. Obama still supports late term abortions if the mother's life is in danger or in cases of diagnosed mental distress but not if mental distress could become relevant after birth. Here's some more clarification.

That still leaves us with one Obama flip flop. Yet he's the moral equivalent of McCain-- a guy who almost switched parties twice and who doesn't have the same stance on an issue as what he did two years ago. Not even close my friend. The only person even close to McCain when it comes to flip flops is Big Love Romney. Your disgust with the GOP nominee doesn't change the fact that you can't come up with one issue McCain has been consistent with in the last two years. He's changed, twisted, flipped, flopped and spun himself in circles in almost Romney proportions.

Even if I were to agree that Obama has flip-flopped on everything you list here, which I don't just to clarify, but even if I did that would equal 8 Obama flip flops to 50+ McCain. Hardly an equivalent. But I guess in the GOP world 51% is a mandate and 8's greater than 50. With math like that it's easy to see why you would think 25% approval rating still means Bush is a popular and successful president.

Jaz said...

I see, you want the same standard of flip-flopping applied universally yet somehow saint Obama has only ever flip-flopped on one issue.

Oh yeah, I'm sure a lot of people would buy that.

Clearly you're drunk on Obama Kool-aid and are beyond reasoning with at this point.

And McCain has had a long history of being pro-life.

Chris said...

Clearly Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have fried your brain. Of the items you mention I only agree with one of them being a flip flop. That doesn't make me right or make me smarter it simply means I don't agree that Obama has flip flopped on all the issues you list. The town hall one is by far your weakest point. The Iraq war you really have nothing to back it up with except the word "refine." You gave no proof of Obama recanting his undivided Jerusalem speech. Bush and McCain now support direct talks with Iran and North Korea, and Obama never changed his position on it. At best there's one flip flop here. But I'm so glad to see you have found the one issue McCain has stayed consistent, at least half way. He is in favor of embryonic stem cell research but that's a stretch for pro-lifers to make. That's probably the only hiccup on his otherwise staunchly pro-life record.

To get back to your last comment, I never said Obama has only flip-flopped on one issue ever. I said with the items you have listed I agree only one is a flip flop. Again, you're just making stuff up when you suggest I'm saying Obama "has only ever flip-flopped on one issue." I never said that.

Of course Obama has flip-flopped on more than one issue. No doubt about it. But he hasn't flip-flopped nearly as much as McCain has in the last 8 years. And McCain's latest flop, more troops in Afghanistan and direct talks with Iran, are the complete adoption of Obama's foreign policy. Not only has McCain flip-flopped, but he's adopted his opponents plan. There's a politician for ya.

Hang in there Jaz. It's really not worth all the headaches it's apparently giving you.

Jaz said...

I know, it's only the most important job in the world being awarded as if it was a twisted version of 'American Idol'.