Abetted by the news media, the Republican spin machine has succeeded in painting John Kerry as inconsistent. Meanwhile, Bush's far greater flip-flopping has become the biggest secret in American politics.
By Arthur I. Blaustein
On October 20, 2004
If 2000 was the year of the soccer mom, 2004 is the year for flip-
flops: as fashion footwear, waving props (at the Republican convention) and taunting yells (at Bush rallies). This strategy was the brainchild of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, who decided that the way for Bush to win was to destroy Kerry's credibility and to attack his leadership qualities, largely by focusing on his alleged inconsistencies about the war in Iraq.
Rove's flip-flop charges quickly became the mantra of the Republican National Committee and the GOP apparatchiks who feed sound bites to the broadcast media, especially the Fox News network; and the president made the flip-flop accusation the rhetorical staple of his stumpspeech.
It's a measure of Rove's skill in the dark arts of political spin -which he learned from Richard Nixon's "dirty tricksters" of Watergate infamy -- that the strategy has succeeded in obscuring two central facts about the presidential candidates: that Kerry's positions have, in fact, been largely consistent; and that Bush, far from being the steady, conviction-driven leader of Republican imaginings, is by far the greater flip-flopper. Rove succeeded because the news media fell for his flip-flop flim-flam. How else could Bush's flip-flopping have become the best kept secret in American politics? This is remarkable, given the sheer quantity of examples. Here's a partial list of Bush flip-flops, with their presumed motivations.
. Prescription drugs from Canada: For, then Against (Big campaign contributions from pharmaceutical corporations)
. Assault weapons in our streets: Against, then For (Pandering to
the NRA and gun manufacturers)
. The creation of a homeland security agency: Against, then For(Public outcry and political expediency)
. McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform: Against, then For(Unprincipled opportunism)
. Nation-building: Against, then For (A double somersault to justify neocon invasion plans)
. Steel tariffs: Against, then For, then Against (A free-trader becomes a protectionist to win votes in Pennsylvania and Ohio)
. Arsenic in water: For, then Against (Public outcry...those darned scientists)
. Mandatory caps on carbon dioxide: For, then Against (The power of the coal and power companies)
. Outside investigation into WMD: Against, then For (Public outcry and world opinion)
. WMD: We found them and then we didn't find them (Confusion, convenience and "flexibility")
. Gay Marriage: First it's an issue for the states and then a federal issue (An opportunistic, red-meat, divisive wedge issue)
. Osama bin Laden: In 2001 he was our No. 1 public enemy; in 2002, "I truly am not that concerned about him" (Failure to prosecute the real war against terror)
. North Korea's nuclear threat: First it was extremely important; now it's not much of a threat (A parry to divert attention from misplaced priorities)
. Cutting troops in Europe: Against, then For (Bad planning for the number of troops needed in Iraq and Afghanistan)
. Immigration reform: For liberalization, then Against (A conflict between wooing the Hispanic vote and angering his nativist base)
. AmeriCorps funding: For, then Against (A favorite target of congressional reactionaries)
. Patriot Act II: For, then Against (The need to appear more moderate in the middle of an election; even angered Republican civil libertarians)
. The 9/11 commission: Six flip-flops, Against and then For: 1) The creation of the commission; 2) the composition of the commission; 3) the extension to allow it to complete its work; 4) his testifying; 5) the testimony of his national security advisor; and finally 6) the implementation of the findings (Public outcry, particularly from the families of 9/11 victims and then commission members -- Republicans and Democrats)
. The war in Iraq: At least nine different rationales as to why the U.S. invaded, and still counting (Reality catching up with fantasy)
. The war in Iraq: "It will be a cakewalk," then, "It will be long and difficult." (Talking out of both sides of the mouth; depending upon audience)
So much for Bush and his "steady leadership." Kerry has been a model of consistency by comparison. On the Iraq war, his position is complex. It requires the ability to understand history and shifting circumstances. These are not exactly the strong suits of the White House and the mass media -- particularly cable TV and the talk-radio ranters, two media that are notoriously serious about unserious issues, and unserious about serious issues.