The Flip-Flop Flim-Flam

( with permission from the Author)

Mother Jones
October 20, 2004  

Abetted by the news media, the Republican spin machine has succeeded in
painting John Kerry as inconsistent. Meanwhile, Bush's far greater
flip-flopping has become the biggest secret in American politics.

If 2000 was the year of the soccer mom, 2004 is the year for flip-flops: as
fashion footwear, waving props (at the Republican convention) and taunting
yells (at Bush rallies). This strategy was the brainchild of Karl Rove,
Bush's chief political strategist, who decided that the way for Bush to win
was to destroy Kerry's credibility and to attack his leadership qualities,
largely by focusing on his alleged inconsistencies about the war in Iraq.

Rove's flip-flop charges quickly became the mantra of the Republican
National Committee and the GOP apparatchiks who feed sound bites to the
broadcast media, especially the Fox News network; and the president made
the flip-flop accusation the rhetorical staple of his stump speech.

It's a measure of Rove's skill in the dark arts of political spin -- which
he learned from Richard Nixon's "dirty tricksters" of Watergate infamy --
that the strategy has succeeded in obscuring two central facts about the
presidential candidates: that Kerry's positions have, in fact, been largely
consistent; and that Bush, far from being the steady, conviction-driven
leader of Republican imaginings, is by far the greater flip-flopper. Rove
succeeded because the news media fell for his flip-flop flim-flam. How else
could Bush's flip-flopping have become the best kept secret in American
politics? This is remarkable, given the sheer quantity of examples. Here's
a partial list of Bush flip-flops, with their presumed motivations.

. Prescription drugs from Canada: For, then Against (Big campaign
contributions from pharmaceutical corporations)

. Assault weapons in our streets: Against, then For (Pandering to the NRA
and gun manufacturers)

. The creation of a homeland security agency: Against, then For (Public
outcry and political expediency)

. McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform: Against, then For (Unprincipled

. Nation-building: Against, then For (A double somersault to justify neocon
invasion plans)

. Steel tariffs: Against, then For, then Against (A free-trader becomes a
protectionist to win votes in Pennsylvania and Ohio)

. Arsenic in water: For, then Against (Public outcry...those darned

. Mandatory caps on carbon dioxide: For, then Against (The power of the
coal and power companies)

. Outside investigation into WMD: Against, then For (Public outcry and
world opinion)

. WMD: We found them and then we didn't find them (Confusion, convenience
and "flexibility")

. Gay Marriage: First it's an issue for the states and then a federal issue
(An opportunistic, red-meat, divisive wedge issue)

. Osama bin Laden: In 2001 he was our No. 1 public enemy; in 2002, "I truly
am not that concerned about him" (Failure to prosecute the real war against

. North Korea's nuclear threat: First it was extremely important; now it's
not much of a threat (A parry to divert attention from misplaced

. Cutting troops in Europe: Against, then For (Bad planning for the number
of troops needed in Iraq and Afghanistan)

. Immigration reform: For liberalization, then Against (A conflict between
wooing the Hispanic vote and angering his nativist base)

. AmeriCorps funding: For, then Against (A favorite target of congressional

. Patriot Act II: For, then Against (The need to appear more moderate in
the middle of an election; even angered Republican civil libertarians)

. The 9/11 commission: Six flip-flops, Against and then For:

1) The creation of the commission;

2) the composition of the commission;

3) the extension  to allow it to complete its work;

4) his testifying;

5) the testimony of his national security advisor; and finally

6) the implementation of the findings
(Public outcry, particularly from the families of 9/11 victims and then
commission members -- Republicans and Democrats)

. The war in Iraq: At least nine different rationales as to why the U.S.
invaded, and still counting (Reality catching up with fantasy)

. The war in Iraq: "It will be a cakewalk," then, "It will be long and
difficult." (Talking out of both sides of the mouth; depending upon

So much for Bush and his "steady leadership." Kerry has been a model of
consistency by comparison. On the Iraq war, his position is complex. It
requires the ability to understand history and shifting circumstances.
are not exactly the strong suits of the White House and the mass media --
particularly cable TV and the talk-radio ranters, two media that are
notoriously serious about unserious issues, and unserious about serious

The Bush spinmeisters wanted to undermine the simple truth that Kerry does
understand history and complexity, particularly when it involves the most
important decision that a president can make: that of taking our country to
war, with all its drastic consequences in human lives and expenditure of
national treasure.

Bush does not seem to understand that those who do not learn from history
are condemned to make the same mistakes. Kerry seems to know a basic
historical truth, that genuine international cooperation, multilateral
force, and traditional alliances are absolutely essential to our nation's
well-being and security in a dangerous world of terrorism and nuclear

If Kerry can be faulted, it is because he believed and trusted Mr. Bush --
as did most Americans -- when he voted for giving the president the
latitude he needed to pursue all the necessay and viable diplomatic avenues

before the Iraq invasion. Kerry then became convinced that Bush misled

Congress and the American people by confusing the all-important war against

terror with Bush's own separate agenda of invading Iraq. Those were, and

still are, two separate issues!

Saddam Hussein was a despicable tyrant, but overthrowing him and invading
Iraq did not lessen the threat of terror; it increased it. It did not
strengthen American military capability; it weakened it. It did not make
Americans at home or abroad safer; it had the opposite effect of increasing
recruitment for al Qaeda and other anti-American militant groups. Invading
Iraq did not increase international cooperation for anti-terrorist efforts
or the respect for America's diplomatic leadership that is indispensable to
the war on terror; it diminished them. Both Franklin Roosevelt and Winston
Churchill, in leading the victorious WWII allies in the war against fascism,

understood the suffering, the human costs, and the scourge of war.  They
understood only too well the need for international cooperation, diplomatic
and military. They understood the critical need for the exchange of
intelligence and multinational action by and among traditional allies. They
understood the need for strategic alliances that every single president
since then, Republican and Democrat, has understood, with the glaring
exception of Bush.

Roosevelt, before his death, was quite clear. He said that the United
Nations was the place to go not to end wars, but to end the beginnings of
wars. And Churchill was just as explicit when he warned us, "The United
Nations is an imperfect institution that is a reflection of an imperfect
world. Its purpose is not to lead us into an ascent to heaven but to
prevent us from going into a descent to hell." Those words are just as true

today  as they were in the aftermath of WWII. Kerry understands what they

meant. Bush isn't interested.

For the past 3 1/2 years I have listened carefully to the President and his
chief advisors. All of it has reminded me of a passage in "The Heart of
Darkness." Joseph Conrad put it this way: "Their talk was the talk of
sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity,

and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight ... in the whole
batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the
work of the world."

Conrad's words capture the strategy of the Bush campaign and his four years
in Washington; they reflect the mood and the moral nullity of the reactionary

enterprise that seeks to tear apart the public good at home and to lead us into

risky pre-emptive wars abroad. The Bush administration just doesn't get it.

No country can sustain itself, much less grow, on a political fare of one-liners,

rerun ideas, deliberate distortions, paranoia, and official policy pronouncements

borrowed from Orwell's "1984" – where recession is recovery, war is peace,

and a social policy based on aggressive hostility is compassion.

In the final analysis, there are two disturbing realities about the 2004
presidential election campaign that should concern all Americans. The first
is that Bush, not Kerry, is guilty of big-time flip-flopping. The second is
that the mass media, through incompetence and a herd mentality, have missed
this defining and crucial story. Bush's flip-flopping had nothing to do
with complexities or principle, and everything to do with political expediency.
This is not a case of one or two isolated switches; it's a deliberate
pattern of manipulation designed to deceive the American electorate. What
we find behind the pattern, and the mask, is a candidate who lacks character,
principles, and integrity. George W. Bush cannot be trusted to govern.

Professor Arthur I. Blaustein teaches public policy and politics at the
University of California, Berkeley. He was chair of the President's
National Advisory Council on Economic
Opportunity during the Carter Administration.
His most recent books are "Make a Difference:
America's Guide to Community
Service" and "The American Promise: Justice and