A Time to Flip-Flop?

It’s interesting that bush has only one response to Kerry’s charges that he’s bungled things in Iraq: “It’s just one more example of Kerry adopting a new position on the war. “ (Paraphrase.)

That’s effective in a way – it makes a great soundbite, and it re-emphasizes the key message that Kerry is a spineless flip-flopper who can’t be trusted with America’s safety. The warbloggers squeal with glee when they hear this. Their man is so macho, he stays the course and Kerry is such a putz.

But this evasiveness can’t go on forever, especially as the crisis continues to spiral out of control and Americans are assaulted with the news of one defeat after another, not to mention one beheading after another. And Kerry is, finally, going after bush’s Achilles heel.

Flip-flopping. This is the major theme of the bush campaign, and it’s permeated nearly every campaign commercial and every reference to his opponent. And now it’s going to reach a new decibel level, because it is the only thing shrub can say to defend himself: “How can you listen to someone who keeps flip-flopping on the issues?”

Not only is this an unfair question, it is a wholly inadequate and flippant response to the incredibly serious issues Kerry is raising. Even if Kerry’s question is proof that he’s flip-flopped (which it isn’t), the fact remains that george has fucked up big-time and he owes us answers.

I won’t go on about bush refusing to accept any responsibility for the shit he causes or his blatant lies about how well things are going. We all know about those things — freedom on the march, prosperity around the corner, etc.. But I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the “flip-flopping” question, and I think it needs to be addressed.

Mark Kleiman flip-flopped on Iraq. So has Kevin Drum, William F. Buckley, Richard Lugar, Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, George Will and countless others. Even I flip-flopped from my very briefly held belief that maybe getting rid of Saddam might be worth the effort (it took me about five minutes to change my mind). This isn’t a symptom of spinelessness, but of our insistence on looking honestly at what’s going on. I have infinitely more respect for those who have changed their minds about Iraq based on honesty than for those who insist on “staying the course” when that course has proven to be a reckless one, with nothing in sight except more needless deaths and unending misery.

Sometimes “flip-flopping” is a very smart thing. If Hitler had flip-flopped in 1942 and allowed the doomed Sixth Army to fall back from Stalingrad before it was surrounded, our world might be a very different place today. Instead, he was bold, he stayed the course, he didn’t turn back — and the flower of the German army was obliterated in the most horrific battle ever fought at any time or in any nation.

So let’s keep it in perspective. It’s not always weak to change your strategy or your point of view. Sometimes it’s a sign of maturity and intelligence. And simply trying to negate what Kerry has said on the grounds that he’s changed his position isn’t good enough, whether the charge is true or false (and in this instance it’s hands-down false).

As the carnage continues and our goals become increasingly elusive, Kerry’s points are going to resonate with a lot of voters. This is truly bush’s Achille heel, and his usual battery of maudlin slogans, platitudes and sugar-coating won’t protect him. McCain, Hagel and Lugar this past weekend all accused bush of misrepresenting the terrible crisis we face in Iraq. Are they all flip-floppers? Of course not. They’re saying the current approach isn’t working and we damned well better come to terms with that fact before it’s too late.

This was the entire focus of Kerry’s excellent speech yesterday in New York, and Sullivan writes that if he makes this his platform, it just might propel Kerry to victory.

I’m a realist and I know how tough the battle for Kerry is (though it’s not nearly as grim as the warbloggers are painting it). But it’s highly encouraging to see that he’s found his voice and his message. This is Kerry’s version of “It’s the economy, stupid.” I’ve been waiting for it a long time, and I hope it’s not too late, now that he’s been so drowned out by the tidal wave of negative noise and smears, utterly without precedent in an American election.

I still have faith in the American people, and believe that if they see just how bad things are in Iraq, just how despicably the administration has lied about it, they will be forced to ask themselves: Is this really the best man to have at his disposal all of America’s military might? After four years, has he demonstrated real leadership and accomplished meaningful results that justify the bloodshed and America’s brutalized reputation? (“Results” is a word he loves to toss around, with zero supporting evidence.) And if they ask themselves these questions, reality may seep in.

So let’s not ease the pressure; let’s treat shrub as a grown-up, and demand that he account for his actions. We know he’s “different” from most grown-ups, that he can’t testify without sitting on Dick Cheney’s lap, that he can’t think fast enough to answer questions at a press conference. But he’s still the president; we have a right to demand real accountability, not just feel-good clichees.

There is only one issue now, and that’s Iraq. If Kerry can focus attention on what’s really happening, bush is doomed, because his failure there will go down in history as one of the vainest, stupidest, most pointless episodes in all of America’s history.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Quite a good piece. Clear and cogent ideas as to why bush is hollow.

Has anyone come up with a list of bush’s filp-flops and why his flips are bad for America.

bush occupies a glass house and should bear the fruit of building it without intellect, knowledge and experience. He has built his glass house on political expediency and he deserves whatever expose he gets for his shallow political positions and policies he makes.

September 21, 2004 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

Has anyone come up with a list of bush’s filp-flops and why his flips
are bad for America.

Do a goggle search of bush + flip flop. When I did that some months ago I was amazed at all that’s been written about this. That’s the infuriating thing — he says he always stays the course and says what he means, but he will turn on a dime whenever he feels political heat.

September 21, 2004 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

Every time that Kerry comes up with a speech on Iraq, the Bush team spins it just a little and says it’s a new position. And the media plays along. The “flip-flop” label is entirely the media’s fault. This is the kind of bullshit that media OUGHT to call people on, but they never do, and they keep on repeating it over and over again.
My favorite new example: “Kerry said that the world would be better off with Saddam still in power.”
No, he didn’t say that. He didn’t say it was safer to leave Saddam in power. What he did say was that the situation now is more dangerous than it was before, entirely because of the president’s conduct in the war. He was saying that because of Bush’s policies, we are not safer now than we were before. But Kerry will ALWAYS say that we should have taken Saddam out.

This doesn’t just go one way, either; the media’s failings are everywhere. They don’t call partisans on their bullshit. They just give them a forum on which they can spew it . It’s the conflict that drivers ratings, not the content, and it’s all very, very depressing.

September 21, 2004 @ 10:22 pm | Comment

If flip flopping means not sticking a doomed and clearly unworkable strategy out until the very end, then lets all flip flop a lot more.

Changing your strategy is better than sticking with a crap one.

September 21, 2004 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

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