Will Saletan has a really interesting piece in Slate about “flip-flopping” and Bush’s credibility. It’s a fresh counterargument to the charge that Bush levels against everybody who critiques him and it’s a lot better than “Bush is a flip-flopper too!”. Basically the theory goes like this: The Bush Administration are con artists. What they do is convince you to support an idea of theirs for a specific reason, and then quickly pulling a fast one. When you cry foul, they point out that they have your support for their policy on record (be it a vote, a quote or a… smote?) and call you a flip-flopper. Saletan draws on a vast web of examples: Democrats’ support of No Child Left Behind, tax cuts, the war etc. Richard Clarke’s 2002 confidential congressional testimony, John DiIulio’s fall out over faith based initiatives etc. Or, as Saletan puts it: “Once you vote with Bush, serve in his cabinet, or spin for him in a classified briefing, you're trapped. If you change your mind, he'll dredge up your friendly vote or testimony and use it to discredit you. That's what he's doing now to all the politicians at home and abroad who fell for his exaggerations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction”. It’s an interesting Grand Unifying Theory of the evolution of anti-Bush sentiment amongst the centrist political class.
I find it pretty convincing, except for one key paragraph:
“That's how Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt got whiplash. They supported tax cuts in 2001 when Bush challenged them to give back some of the surplus. Then the surplus vanished, Bush demanded more tax cuts, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001. Then the administration withheld money for it, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported the Patriot Act after 9/11 when Bush urged them to trust law enforcement. Then the Justice Department took liberties with its new powers, and they decided they'd been conned. They voted for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq after the administration promised to use the resolution as leverage toward U.N. action, reserving unilateral war as a last resort. Then Bush ditched the United Nations and went to war, and they decided they'd been conned.”
Honestly, I can’t help but think that a lot of this is simply buying Democratic party spin when Kerry-Edwards-Gephardt really should’ve known better. There’s a whole bunch of questions begged by this paragraph. If Kerry-Edwards-Gephardt believed the resolution was meant to encourage multilateral action, why were there no demands in the resolution that Bush seek cooperation? The Bush administration and the Republican party have never been able to play well with others, so why trust them to do so now? What evidence, other than K-E-G’s claims, do we have that the Bush administration ever made them this promise anyway? Are they so naïve to accept a vague and off-the-record handshake? Why would K-E-G trust the Bush administration after he had so routinely lied to them over the past few years? When has the Justice Department even not taken liberties with its powers? Isn’t that why the Constitution exists in the first place?
In other words, I’m pretty sure that K-E-G did the politically expedient thing. They pretty much said so on the talk shows and, after all, wasn’t it Tom Dashcle who wanted to “move on” from the gravest issue facing this nation (whether or not we should go to war) and go back to promising seniors that their entitlements were secure? And let us not forget that Kerry re-embraced the war when it became politically helpful by saying that if Dean were President, Hussein would still be in power. Besides, what kind of defense does Kerry have for his post-9/11 voting record? “Hi. This is John Kerry. I know I supported the very policies I’m criticizing but… well, I kinda… um… trusting. And innocent. And easily duped. Vote for me. I have integrity, I’m not a flip-flopper, I’m just monstrously gullible.”
Let me reiterate here that at the end that we absolutely have to have to have to get rid of Bush, he is bad for this country and, more importantly, an absolute disaster for this world. We have to get someone else elected who is to the left of Bush, and the person with the best chance of doing that right now is John Kerry. We could’ve also done a lot worse: John Kerry has a consistent (especially pre-9/11) liberal voting record. He is not totally in the pocket of the DLC. He is very intelligent, cares about the details of the issue, and is slowly learning how to engage the American People. We also have to work hard to get a Democratic Congress and Senate so that they can start to turn back some of the great harm done to us during this administration. But none of that is going to happen if the Democrats are so scared of losing that they forget who they are and where they come from. They should remember: they lost the 2002 congressional races in a very dramatic fashion by trying to play it safe. It’s time to take risks, and it’s time to be decisive.
By the way: still haven’t seen John Kerry anywhere. Maybe we should stop giving him money until he comes out of hiding. I know he’s having shoulder surgery, but isn’t there some surrogate he could put on Crossfire. Or maybe it’s the infighting. I don’t know. But if you go over to Talking Points Memo, you will see what is perhaps the least-inspiring web ad ever trying to convince you to give money to Kerry. I mean, what kind of a slogan is “The choice couldn’t be clearer: elect a new President… or re-elect the current one”.