Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Obama, McCain and Flip-Flopping: When a Meme is Just a Meme

Lost amid the swooning coverage of Barack Obama this election cycle is any real attention to his words, beyond their lyrical quality of course. That absense has led directly to the current panic of the Obamatrons who're shocked to find that Obama's slick campaign skills would be used to run, well, a campaign that makes him electable.

The Republicans, of course, are more than happy to stoke the fire, jumping on the "he's changed his stance on withdrawal" bandwagon in a reprise of their 2004 campaign meme. However, in order to really believe that his stance has changed, one would have had to ignore nearly every single statement he's made on the subject, as he has said he would need to consult with officers on the ground before planning any pullout every time the subject has been broached in Q&A sessions.

On Thursday:

My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything I've said, was always premised on making sure our troops were safe. And my guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable. And I'm going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.

Thus began the firestorm which filled the holiday news void, lest the lazy journalists have to seek out an actual news story or something. The benign statement--seemingly--is nothing new for Obama, as it has been consistent over the span of his campaign. Selective hearing and short attention spans have ensured that the message was lost, but it was there for anyone who chose to listen.

At the September MSNBC Democratic Debate:

Russert: Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term, more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?

Obama: I think it's hard to project four years from now, and I think it would be irresponsible. We don't know what contingency will be out there.

What I can promise is that if there are still troops in Iraq when I take office -- which it appears there may be, unless we can get some of our Republican colleagues to change their mind and cut off funding without a timetable -- if there's no timetable -- then I will drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians, and making sure that we're carrying out counterterrorism activities there.

I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013, but I don't want to make promises, not knowing what the situation's going to be three or four years out.

Clearly far short of a 16-month promise. I've already written about Obama's willingness to leave lawless private contractors behind in Iraq and his commitment to status quo ante foreign policy in arenas elsewhere, and everything he's said on the subject has been meticulously constructed so as to allow for the most wiggle room possible. What the listener chooses to hear is not under his control.

And his former adviser Samantha Power in March to round it out:

STEPHEN SACKUR: Let me stop you just for a moment. You said that he’ll revisit it when he goes to the White House. So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn’t a commitment isn’t it?

POWER: You can’t make a commitment in whatever month we’re in now, in March of 2008 about what circumstances are gonna be like in Jan. 2009. We can’t even tell what Bush is up to in terms of troop pauses and so forth. He will of course not rely upon some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US senator.

He will rely upon a plan, an operational plan that he pulls together, in consultation with people who are on the ground, to whom he doesn’t have daily access now as a result of not being the president.

So to think, I mean it would be the height of ideology, you know, to sort of say, well I said it therefore I’m going to impose it on whatever reality entreats me –

SACKUR: Ok, so the 16 months is negotiable?

POWER: It’s the best case scenario.

Far from flip-flopping, Obama's position has been remarkably consistent, even if consistently equivocal.

The corporate media seems happy to be complicit in advancing the Republican narrative on this particular issue, if for no other reason than it's a story that requires very little leg work on their part. As far as flip-flopping goes, though, John McCain surely takes top prize. Comparing his 2000 campaign and his current one, it becomes nearly impossible to find a subject on which he hasn't dramatically switched positions.

To run through just a few:

  • Once calling leaders of the religious right "agents of intolerance," he has embraced not only Jerry Falwell and spoken at Liberty, but has accepted the endorsements of two of the most intolerant of the intolerant, John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

  • Once decried the Bush tax cuts as unwise in a time of war and said they were too beneficial to the top economic tier, now pledges to extend those cuts.

  • Opposed drilling on the OCS. No longer.

  • Introduced two bills to the Senate, one forbidding torture and another reforming immigration policy, now supports neither. And those were bills he introduced himself.

  • Once stated he wouldn't attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, now pledges to.

  • In 2005, warned against a long term presence in Iraq. Now, well, you know the rest.

I could go on, but there's hardly a need. Whatever your allegiance to the policies of either candidate, there is no logical debate to be had on which one has shifted positions with greater fluidity. That's not to say that it won't go that way, as the American electorate is not known for its resistance to being led around by the nose. The only thing that matters is that the strategy worked in 2004 and the Republicans will be damned if they don't try it in 2008, even when the reality proves that tactic a farce.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Facts no longer matter, and conventional wisdom is a tough beast to slay.


Obama Would Leave Contractors in Iraq, March 3
Obama's Move to the Right, July 2
McCain Warns Against Long-Term Presence, April 30
McCain Called for Quick Withdrawal from Clinton's Forays, April 6

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