Both candidates face this accusation on a daily basis, including from their own supporters. Is there a problem? There are two key reasons for flip-flopping: a genuine reassessment of a position, often in light of changing facts and circumstances, and pure political pandering. Most of what we see is in the latter category. But flip-flopping itself is not necessarily a bad thing. If only George Bush had overcome his petulant stubbornness and flip-flopped over the past few years, maybe we could have avoided the killing fields of Iraq. And even when the flip-flop is done with an eye on the polls, that is not necessarily a bad thing. What matters to the voter is less the nobilty and integrity of the candidate, and more the kinds of policies that will be enacted.
Let’s look at some of Obama’s purported flip-flops. Some are based on assessments of circumstances, such as when he declared that withdrawing from Iraq could take months, and would not be instantaneous. That is a simple logistical issue, a reflection of reality, rather than a change of principle. And since the majority of Americans desire withdrawal, I don’t see much pandering here. Many progressives have been dismayed by changing positions that actually please me: his support for faith-based initiatives (properly funded this time, and not the cynical joke they became in the Bush administration), and his narrow restriction on the conditions that would justify late-term abortions (not much in the scheme of things, but a baby step in the right direction). If this is pandering, I don’t care, for the outcomes are good.
And then we come to his support for handgun ownership and the use of the death penalty for child rapists. I totally oppose these decisions, but I am not surprised. I really did not expect any better in this individualist and Calvinist culture. The culture of death is pervasive.I’m not at all bothered by his changing views on public campaign funding. I would probably have done the same thing in his shoes! I’m sure he did not anticipate the enormous groundswell of small donors that would fill his campaign coffers. And for years, the Republicans have outspent and outlasted their opponents. So why not? It’s a sane reaction to changing circumstances, and I see little moral content. And anyway, he needs to be ready to face the inevitable onslaught of shady quasi-independent groups that will malign his character viciously, rather than debate the issues.
Finally, let me turn to his support for the government’s eavesdropping program. I will probably draw criticism for saying this (and not from the people who usually criticize me!) but I don’t have a huge problem with it. I have always argued that individual liberty is not absolute, and can be curtailed in the interests of the common good, as long as human dignity or basic human rights are respected. So while I vigorously oppose torture, rendition and unjust imprisonment, I find it hard to get worked up about this kind of wiretapping. Sure, I have major concerns that the nefarious Bush-Cheney regime will abuse this power, but this is a separate point.
So that’s Obama. Why I simply cannot understand is why the media obsesses on his shifts, while giving McCain a free pass– at a time when McCain has accomplished the most wide-ranging political flip-flops in political history. It’s becoming difficult to keep up– this source counts 61 unique incidences of flip-flopping!! And these are major issues, ranging from torture to foreign policy to tax cuts to immigration to energy policy. Read the entire list. It’s too long to debate each point on its merit. But why is he getting a free pass from the media yet again? Are we going to see a repeat of how Gore and Kerry were treated? Sigh.