Change You Can Deal With

Dear members of the political media,

Every time you refer to someone changing their mind as a “flip-flopper,” you continue to act out the script set for you by the Bush campaign back in 2004.

Are you not tired yet of being manipulated so easily and baldly by mudslinging campaign strategists? Are you so simple-minded that you sincerely believe this phrase is of any value to anyone thinking critically about issues of national and international import?

It is 2008 now. Please grow up. Thinking, intelligent adults change their minds. It’s part of being informed and realistic about the world around you, so stop treating it like a weakness, you fools.

Sincerely,
Chris Rugen

3 Responses to “Change You Can Deal With”

  1. Steve Laniel says:

    A couple points:

    1) J.M. Keynes famously (but maybe apocryphally) replied, when taunted about his new views on economics, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

    2) There’s changing one’s mind when the facts change, and then there’s changing one’s mind in discussion with a new group of people. E.g., I think it’s fairly well acknowledged that candidates say a lot of things during the primaries that are intended to motivate their base. Then when they win the nomination, they have to start talking to the general populace, so they moderate their talking points.

    So people are naturally going to wonder what a candidate believes if he shifts his talking points constantly. Specifically, look at Obama’s flip-floppery (yes, I think it’s accurately labeled as such) on FISA. Or look at McCain’s flip-floppery on pretty much everything.

    I think there is a very real danger here. The public thinks, “I can’t trust a thing they say, so how do I choose a candidate?” This is, I think, where “voting on character” comes from — if the person looks generally trustworthy, then you can ignore his particular shifts in policy. It may also be the origin of voting for trivial reasons (which candidate is taller, which candidate you’d rather have a beer with, etc.).

  2. David Stewart says:

    I think the problem is a bit different. The media are not acting out some script set by the Bush campaign. That’s blatantly fallacious analysis (they aren’t calling Obama a flipper at all), and false accusation at once. (It was not Bush who noted Kerry’s flipping. It was, in fact, a media person of the left. Like most of them.)

    And Obama’s not reacting to changed facts about the subjects he is now “nuancing.” That’s also blatantly false. What about trade changed to which Obama is now reacting by changing his stance on NAFTA? Not a single thing. It’s not like suddenly NAFTA trade suddenly started creating millions of jobs.

    What about Iraq has changed? Well, a lot over the last couple years, but for those two years Obama was saying the surge would not and could not work (prospectively), as we were trying to end a civil war (it wasn’t a civil war, but what the heck, it was the easy, sophomoric analysis, and that’s where Obama always is); that it wasn’t working when it clearly was (even while it was), and accusing Patreus of lying; crediting what positive changes were happening not to the surge but to Iran’s efforts, to the election of the Democratic Congressional majority, and of course to the prospect of Obama’s election–but still maintaining that it was not working and that the solution was still that which he had offered a year or more before–quick withdrawal regardless of circumstances or consequences (note that: Those “conditions” of Obama’s didn’t change either, and vitiate his later or current repositioning in the light of facts: Facts didn’t matter then, and the ones that do now have nothing to do with the facts in Iraq).

    What about Iran has changed, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or Syria, or Hezbollah, or Hamas, and their tyrants or thug heads, between Obama’s statement that he’d directly talk to them (you know, negotiate) without preconditions, and his recent attempt to create preconditions by mis-citing historical precedents (showing, as he did so, that he had no idea what he was talking about with respect to the precedents)? Nothing changed; only his sophomoric analyses and approaches got exposed–that’s what changed.

    What changed about Jerusalem as capital? Nothing–he got exposed for the ignorant sophomoric naif he is.

    What changed about the prosecution of the war on terror? Well, okay, Obama hasn’t yet changed on this–he’s still ignorant, and mis-citing precedents he clearly knows little about (viz, his claim that the WTC 1993 bombings’ prosecutions prove that a judicial approach works; clearly he had no idea how many of the perpetrators escaped and did not get prosecuted, nor that despite his claim that the ones who got jailed were “incapacitated” the “blind sheikh” carried on leading his terrorist group from his cell with the aid of Lynn Stewart [do you doubt she’s an Obama supporter and he would be hers?]).

    Obama’s not changing because he is learning about the issues he’s made so many egregiously ignorant and misguided pronunciations on; he’s not drifting to the center he was always really at now that primaries are over.

    What’s going on with the left’s attempts to cast Obama’s changes as fact-driven (RELEVANT fact-driven, not electoral-map-fact-driven) is cynicism as blatant as his: They know he’s not changing anything. He says he’s opposed to homosexual marriage; they know he just says that because he has to, but in fact he favors it. He says he will come up with preconditions that assume the pursuit of our rightful national interest; they know he won’t, and will cast a foreign policy to the detriment (properly so, he believes) of the US’s national interest. Take any policy he’s drifting rhetorically on–the left will vote for Obama because, policy by policy, they know he doesn’t mean it; it’s just boob bait for the more conservative of the Democrat voters.

    Media script my butt.

  3. chris r says:

    Steve: I definitely agree that what could be legitimately labeled “flip-flopping” is something that should be called out, and both candidates are certainly guilty of it. However, what aggravates me is that this term is bandied about as a substitute for substantive comments and descriptions. “Oh, his flip-flopping on X. Yes, that certainly is flip-flopping.” I’d much rather have them state specifics and deal with specifics than using this shorthand. I think it creates a blurry line between a change of stance and a true hypocritical backtracking or attempt to pretend that one has held a view all along.

    David: I’m not sure why you’ve so riled up about Obama here. Perhaps because of Steve’s comments? I didn’t bring him up, I was addressing a label that drives me crazy, no matter who it’s applied to. You’ve made some claims here I’d love to see actual citations for. For example, here’s an example of Obama being called a flip-flopper along with McCain by CNN.

    Kerry was branded a flip-flopper by the Republicans, who all stepped in line and repeated the phrase, which the media picked up on and hasn’t been able to let go of. They may not have invented the term (which I didn’t claim) and they may not have been the first (could you cite your claim?), but it was part of their campaign strategy. I’m baffled that you believe otherwise, given that the phrase was instrumental in forming the perception of Kerry’s character and political positions. You seem to have isolated yourself from mainstream media coverage, which is what I’m referring to. Just google “kerry flip-flopper” and you’ll see as much right-wing coverage as you will media coverage, which you claim is leftist.

    You lambaste others for being mistaken, but you’ve riddled your comment with unfounded (and off-topic) claims. You should back up your assertions if you want us to pay it any mind.