There is absolutely no way a politician with any sort of a political career will ever keep each and every single one of their positions exactly the same at all times. Furthermore, I would be very distrustful of one that did. Politicians change their positions for any number of reasons and craven political opportunism is only one of them. Sometimes, the facts or the climate changes. Sometimes a politician is in a different role. Being mayor of New York is different than being President and thus the same person would see the world differently from those two perspectives. Sometimes being presented with new evidence changes a perspective. Sometimes, of course, a politician merely sees a political opportunity and adjusts their position for no better reason than craven ambition.
Unfortunately, to know which motivation a politician has we would have to read minds and thus we are never really sure what motivates a flip flop. The big political evil of craven flip flops is that it reveals a politician with no core and one willing to do or say anything merely to advance their own agenda. Furthermore, craven flip flops reveal a politician with absolutely no courage. Once the political winds swing so will their positions. Craven flip flops reveal the worst and most cynical in politics.
This brings us to the simultaneous flip flops of the two Presidential candidates. Nothing is more annoying to me at least than a Democrat defending Obama flip flops by pointing to McCain flip flops. Bill O'Reilly is fond of saying that you can't excuse bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. This is an example. Furthermore, McCain has a thirty year plus record and with it a political core. Furthermore, we have rarely had a politician with more courage than McCain.
Thus, let's examine the recent flip flops of each and see if they are equal.
1)Bush Tax cuts.
This is a favorite so called flip flop that many Democrats point to. First, when McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts that was itself a flip flop. McCain has long been a proponent of tax cuts. His position in 2003 was the unusual one. Now, five years later, McCain wants to make those tax cuts permanent. Now, the Democrats can call this a craven attempt to pander, but are they really saying that in five years the only thing that has changed is political expediency? Here is McCain on the Senate floor explaining his opposition to the Bush tax cuts in 2003.
For the most part, his opposition had to do with timing and more than that with a lack of spending cuts. McCain wasn't opposed to the concept of tax cuts. McCain has certainly never been in favor of tax increases. Furthermore, any first level econ class can tell you that you never raise taxes when the economy is weakening.
As such, the Democrats can pretend as though McCain's reversal on the Bush tax cuts is nothing more than craven opportunism but in reality there are many more possible reasons.
2) Off shore drilling
This McCain reversal was sudden and it was unexpected, and thus it lends credence to political opportunism.
Beyond mere opportunism though, we are also facing $4 a gallon gasoline prices. It is also reasonable to conclude that an environmentalist will adjust their position when the country is on the brink of economic crisis.
Thus, we have room to conclude either craven opportunism and sound political adjustment.
On this issue, I really see nothing beyond craven political opportunism. While I agree with McCain's current position on torture, I could certainly respect how he came to his previous conclusion. It is certainly possible that he has become privy to new intelligence that makes him conclude that enhanced interrogations do work, however no amount of intelligence could be as relevant as first hand experience. If he believed that his own experiences lead him to conclude that enhanced interrogations don't work then that is what he should have stuck with.
4) FISA and Warrantless Wiretapping
On this issue, there also only appears to be craven political opportunism. It appears that McCain saw an opening to be tough on national security and wanted two more issues to bang against the head of Barack Obama.
This is another favorite flip flop of Democrats. That's because most supported his original position. Democrats wonder aloud about where the maverick with the comprehensive plan went. Well, isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Comprehensive reform failed and miserably. It nearly cost him his nomination. Is it really surprising that he has since taken on a different position? Do the Democrats really expect him to change nothing following an otherworldly defeat.
If a football team gets crushed and the quarterback is benched, is the coach also a flip flopper?
1) Free Trade
Never in the history of flip flops has their been one so craven and opportunistic as the one perpetrated by Barack Obama on free trade. Throughout the primaries Obama tried to use this as a wedge issue in places like Iowa, Pennsylvania and Ohio where Democrats furiously oppose free trade. In fact, he tried to blunt Hillary using Bill's record by pointing out Bill's support for NAFTA throughout the primary.
Suddenly, now that the primary is over, Barack Obama is saying that his previous unambiguous opposition to free trade was nothing more than "inartful" statements in the heat of the campaign.
No one should be surprise, that's exactly what his advisor Austen Goolsby allegedly told the Canadians during the primary...
Goolsbee told the Canadian government his anti-NAFTA rhetoric "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."
Obnama of course denied this conclusion at the time and continued his protectionist rhetoric. Now, suddenly, like a magician, Barack Obama has taken on a more balanced approach toward free trade in time for the general election. This is craven political opportunism of the worst kind.
Obama responded to McCain's craven political opportunism with craven political opportunism of his own. Obama was so virulently against the FISA bill in its current form that he proclaimed he would lead a filibuster if it was attempted to be passed with retroactive immunity. That was during the primary when his audience was largely liberal activists that held the same position. Now that his audience is largely independents much more sympathetic to tough national security measures he backs away from that position.
3) The 2nd Amendment
This flip flop is so outrageously obscene because it spans time and place and furthermore he has flip flopped so often that he has taken nearly every position you can on the issue. In 1996, he answered a questionnaire from a liberal group with positions that bordered on supporting a total repeal of the amendment. Obama has since denied that those were his views even though his handwriting was on the questionnaire and the group said they did an interview with him following the questionnaire in which he confirmed his answers.
He has since said that both the second amendment is an individual's right to keep and bear firearms and that the D.C.'s total ban on handguns is proper. Furthermore, after the Heller decision he said he agreed with the court even though the overturned the very D.C. handgun ban he has said he supports.
Furthermore, he says that he would appoint judges like Ginsberg, Souter, and Stevens and all three dissented in the decision he says he supports. In other words, Barack Obama's position on the second amendment is whatever he thinks is politically expedient at any given time. Craven political opportunism doesn't even begin to describe what Barack Obama has done with this issue.
4) Public Financing
Once again we have a craven flip flop of political opportunism. During the primary Obama was all for being a part of public financing system. At the time, two things were happening. First, he hadn't yet realized his fundraising prowess. Second, he was developing a theme of being against the special interests. Since he now believes he could raise up to $500 million he no longer believes in public financing which would cap him much lower. Furthermore, his explanation that most of his money will be raised in small amounts is simply a distortion. While there is no doubt that he has exhibited prowess in raising obscene amounts of money in small portions ($50 and less), he has also exhibited prowess in raising money in bundled portions. This idea that he is going to be financed exclusively by small donations is a simple lie. The reality is that plenty of his fundraising will come from special interests.
In other words, he is everything he claims is wrong with the system.
5) Iran, Iraq, Jerusalem, Foreign Policy and more
On all of these matters, Barack Obama has shown a propensity for flip flops and corrections simply because his position is difficult to understand. It isn't that he changes it for political expediency but that he doesn't really understand his own position.
He told AIPAC that Jerusalem wouldn't be split up and in the hands of Israel only to find out that this is just simply improper. He called Iran a dangerous threat and a tiny country on subsequent days. He has said that he would negotiate with our enemies with no preconditions, some preconditions, and many pre conditions all at different times.
He has said that he wants to get out of Iraq by March 2008, March 2009, and 16 months after he is inaugurated, and then, he has said that he would follow the directions of the generals. Of course, he has not explained what he would do if the generals didn't want to follow his timeline.
On all these issues, you see a political novice that really doesn't know what he wants to do. More dangerous than a political opportunist is a clueless rookie figuring it out as he goes along, especially during war time.
So, on the whole, we have two politicians that at times succombed to nothing more than craven political opportunism. Frankly, I don't know many that haven't done the same at one time or another. No one should look for a pure politician or you will wind up like Diogenes who was looking for an honest man. Given McCain's principled and politically courageous backing of the surge, when no one else would, he can be excused one or two politically expedient positions. Furthermore, his political courage was otherworldly when he alligned with Ted Kennedy during the Republican primary. Finally, while I won't in anyway defend his craven political opportunism on FISA and torture, is there any doubt that on the whole he plans on pursuing an aggressive GWOT policy?
Still, there are those that at times succomb to political opportunism at the expense of principle, and then there is Barack Obama. It is one thing to be John McCain and see a thirty five year record. It is another to be Barack Obama and have no record. Furthemore, the sheer magnitude, scope, and breadth of Obama's flip flops far surpass anything McCain has exhibited. Barack Obama gained favor of the press and the Democratic establishment by running to Hillary's left during the primaries. Now, he is running even faster to the middle so that he won't be defined as too liberal. Furthermore, there is no issue, position, or principle he won't sell or change. Obama's flip flops range on just about any issue or policy you can find. Given that his record is bare, there are worries about core and courage that we don't have with McCain.