05 November 2007

A Clarification

I railed earlier this week about the political climate in this country that makes it impossible for a politician to change his or her mind these days. I linked to articles about John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and George Bush that accused them of flip-flopping. To me, flip-flopping is of smaller scope--changing one's mind on how to reform healthcare, reversing an earlier policy on a specific bill, or even completely abandoning a pet issue because its solution is untenable or its resolution is no longer a priority (Bush's abandonment of many of his domestic issues can arguably fall into this category). This is why I think the term is so unfair. I mean, how does one decide who has legitimately changed his or her mind and who is flip-flopping?

What I accused Mr. Bush of is not flip-flopping because it is so much broader in scope. It is a sea change in his entire philosophy and that of the Republican party. It is lying to the American people--a moral shortcoming the religious right evangelical base does not acknowledge in their A-1 guy in Washington. (One could argue that these evangelicals are suckers who would follow almost anyone who tells them the right things (like him or him or him or them or him or him), but that is overly simplistic, overly general, and insulting to people like Billy Graham.)

But I was reminded today that there are instances in the smaller scale issues in which it is quite easy to identify flip-flopping. What reminded me was John Edwards' attack on Hillary Clinton during the democratic debates last week. She obviously danced around Tim Russert's question--which was of the "yes or no" variety. Either she supports New York governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants or she does not. It's that easy. Of course, she can answer that question and then qualify it, but would that qualification really make it on the news? Nope. FOXNews would lead the pack (but they'd all follow) with headlines howling something like "Clinton for Licensing Illegals," and her qualification would never make it on the air and would be buried in the newspapers.

So great. The media outlets are forcing the sort of political doublespeak that we complain about today. What's that to do with flip-flopping? Like I said, Mr. Edwards jumped all over Mrs. Clinton (and Mr. Obama did, too) for this doublespeak, and I thought to myself: Good for him. It may be politically motivated, but at least he's trying to spotlight political doublespeak when he sees it.

Then I read this, watched this, and read this. Well, crap. I like John Edwards, but he is obviously not as different a politician as I thought he was. Bash Mrs. Clinton for not giving a clear yes-or-no answer, fine. But you'd damn well better have a yes-or-no answer when someone eventually asks you. That didn't happen, and that is what I'd consider a flip-flop. He intimated that he would be against giving illegal aliens drivers licenses, but then Mr. Stephanopoulos presses him further, finally saying that he was actually echoing Mrs. Clinton. "You're saying the same thing, right?" To which Mr. Edwards almost sheepishly replies, "That’s true." If only we could say that about everything they say...

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