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9/23/2004

Bush the Flip Flopper?

The Post has a moderately interesting meta-analysis of the travails of the "flip-flop" charge this election cycle. It notes that both Bush and Kerry change their positions, and then tries to figure out why these shifts are a liability for Kerry but not Bush.

The answer is relatively simple:

  1. Bush and the Republicans are more effective at interjecting their talking points into every conversation, regardless of relevance or accuracy.
  2. Bush and the Republicans take the extra step and explain why Kerry is a flip-flopper.
The Post piece, despite noting both Bush's many position shifts and his bizarre rationale shifts (tax cuts good when surpluses big; tax cuts good when deficits big, etc.), fails to fully extricate itself from the quagmire of GOP distortion. Consider the following:
Kerry's statements have compounded the damage. In September 2003, he said at a Democratic debate, "We should not send more American troops" to Iraq. "That would be the worst thing." In April, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "if it requires more troops . . . that's what you have to do." In August, he told ABC's "This Week" that if elected, "I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops." This week, he said that, as president, he would not have launched an invasion if he had known that there was not clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction or ties to al Qaeda, though last month he said, knowing these things, he still would have voted to give Bush congressional authority to wage the Iraq war.
Kerry's position on troop levels in Iraq may have changed, but the above quotes do not demonstrate it. Kerry's plan is to increase international involvement, bringing in foreign troops to replace American troops. So when he calls for no more American troops, or supports bringing some troops home, he is still able to endorse an increase in the overall number of troops. Bush will call this "nuance," and even some Kerry supporters will claim it is too complicated and too difficult to package in a concise talking point. But it also happens to be a consistent, defensible position.

The same is true for Kerry's recent statement that, knowing what we now know, he would not have invaded Iraq, but he still would have voted to give the President authority to make that decision. The GOP is trying to make Kerry's entirely consistent (if unwise, given Bush's character) position look like a flip-flop by deceptively calling the vote for the use of force authorization a vote for the war itself - but it was manifestly not. The media is complicit in perpetuating these GOP promulgated distortions. [See Slate for some nice Kerry quotes from the force authorization vote.]

The second point is more important, but should have been more easy for the Democrats to tactically counter. When Kerry changes his position, the GOP provides a narrative explanation of why he did so: because he lacks character and won't stick with his decisions (tacking with the winds...) and because he is a political opportunist (he says whatever's popular). The "wind-surfing" charge should be countered by a strong reiteration of the real rationale for Kerry's positions, by heaping scorn on the negativity of the Republican charge, and by counterattacking Bush on being unable to make hard choices. Bush only supports positions that don't require him to explain the costs involved - every position he's ever advocated has been sold as win-win.

The political opportunism charge is the opening liberals should have (and should still) hit back on most forcefully - Bush is the archetypal political opportunist. We can talk til we're blue in the face of Bush's flip-flops, but without providing an explanation of his motive, we are letting him off the hook. He changes his positions for two reasons: because his original position was a bullshit effort to look moderate, and he reveals himself as a neanderthal at the first opportunity (environment, Parks, assault weapons ban); and because masking his true beliefs will let him attack Democrats (DHS, 9/11 Commission, trade). What he tells people about his positions is entirely poll-driven, entirely political, and entirely inauthentic. None of his positions are popular, so he lies about them, to one end - staying in power, keeping his job.

[Standard Disclaimer: I am not criticizing the Kerry campaign. Counterframing is the responsibility of every progressive, not just the Kerry campaign or the Party. It is our job to counter the Republican Noise Machine.]

 

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