Republicans Go Retro With Hapless Flip-Flop Attack

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jul 07, 2008 at 13:33

The new line of attack from Republicans on Barack Obama is that he has flip-flopped on Iraq and a host of other issues. Charles Krauthammer's column from Friday is a good example of this, as is the McCain conference call today:

On a conference call with reporters a few moments ago, a senior McCain surrogate, Steve Forbes, recited a litany of things that Obama has supposedly flip-flopped on, and said that Obama had "changed his mind" on troop withdrawals from Iraq.

I think I have seen this line of attack before. In honor of the new, retro 2004 campaign, I will break out my American Idiot album, watch some old Arrested Development DVD's, and go to the matinee showing of Fahrenheit 911. I guess this retro craze is so severe that we really are running out of past.

Four years later, I have grave doubts that a "flip-flop" charge is actually effective in a political campaign, especially in an Obama vs. McCain campaign. Consider the following:

  1. If Obama is Kerry, then McCain is Bush. Bush argued that John Kerry was a flip-flopper, and everyone remembers that charge quite well. As such, for the McCain campaign to argue that Obama is a flip-flopper should actually cause voters to compare McCain to Bush just as much as they might compare Obama to Kerry. Right now, being tied to Bush is a lot worse than being tied to Kerry.
  2. Doesn't contradict Obama's image. Obama, unlike Kerry, has been running on his willingness to engage in bi-partisan compromise for over a year. So, it isn't clear how the "flip-flop" charge even goes against Obama's longstanding campaign promises. He has told everyone repeatedly that he will compromise, so it is unclear how attacking him for doing so will hurt him. (That isn't to imply that I think things like FISA are actually compromises, but it is how they are being portrayed in the media).
  3. Do people even dislike flip-floppers? A January 2007 poll from Pew showed that 75% of voters like candidates who "are willing to compromise." That was slightly higher than the 67% of voters who like politicians who stick to their principles.
  4. Has anyone flip-flopped more than McCain?: There are few politicians in the last twenty years who have flip-flopped more than McCain. E. J. Dionne covers some in his column today--taxes, offshore drilling--and a classic video by Brave New Films covers several more.

Overall, it is very hard to imagine this new line of attack against Obama will hurt him at all. In fact, looking at the national poll trend lines at, the only line of attack that has ever clearly damaged Obama was the Reverend Wright flap back in March. Outside of a precipitous, but temporary, drop in Obama's numbers during March, Obama's polling trends have been straight upward. So-called "Bittergate" in mid-April might have also caused a second, small, very brief drop.

Republicans are going to have to come up with something better than this kitsch, retro flip-flop line of attack if they want to beat Obama. Not to concern troll or anything, but if the only clearly demonstrable way that Obama has been damaged in this campaign was Reverend Wright, that is probably the type of attack they should be exploiting. It would be highly unsavory, race-baiting sorts of attacks, but just because it is unsavory and laced with bigotry hasn't stopped conservatives in past elections.  

Chris Bowers :: Republicans Go Retro With Hapless Flip-Flop Attack

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Flip-Flop == Weak (4.00 / 5)
What the Republicans really did to Kerry was portray him as a weak girly-man.  The flip-flopping meme was just one of the specifics, to go along with not really being a war hero and so on.

As long as Obama forcefully stands up for a few things (what, almost doesn't matter) and isn't afraid to attack from time to time, he'll be fine on this charge.

Flip-Flop == Dishonest? (0.00 / 0)
Just to counter my own point (I'm a good liberal that way), in connection to a prior thread, it is possible the flip-flop charge could take hold as part of an attack against Obama's honesty.

[ Parent ]
Plus it paints McCain as rigid (4.00 / 1)
The flip-flop charge worked for Buah in 2004, but thin it was in 2005 that the public began to realize that Bush was a rigid and delusional ideologue, and it was the beginning of the end for Bush.  That's why the flip-flop theme has lost most of its punch.  The lazy media doesn't seem to have realized this.  Obama really didn't change his position on very many issues (except FISA, a mitake) he just changed his emphasis.  You can do that with nuanced positions.  And what's the McCain position here?  Endless war, not withdeawal.  Endless occupation to protectthe oil supply and project our powewr.  That's so popular.

I think it is important not to play into the flip-flop theme nonetheless.  As Robert Creamer says,

Don't reinforce the Republican narrative that Obama is a "flip flopper." Disagreeing with an Obama position is very different from arguing that he agreed with you once, but now has changed positions just to win favor with the voters. First, that is generally wrong. Second, if Obama emphasizes one aspect of a position instead of another in order to attract a particular group of voters, that does not mean he "changed" his position. Third, remember that the Republicans are desperate to get Progressives to confirm their narrative and convince guys like my New Jersey taxi driver to elect John McCain.

[]Remember that there is a huge gulf between the values of Obama and McCain. Obama stands clearly in the progressive tradition of giving every human being equal opportunity to fulfill their potential. McCain stands squarely on the side of ultra-conservative values that protect the power and prerogatives of the wealthiest among us.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

A little off-topic, but... (0.00 / 0)
I remember reading a while back a suggestion that we set up a website to chronicle "The Real McCain" - providing the links we use in the SEO campaign, showing the Brave New Films short - things like that.

Has anyone considered registering for such a site, or redirecting it to somewhere?  The double "c" in his name looks unnatural in all-lowercase letters/URL form, so I bet this (vacant) site gets a lot of unintentional traffic, sort of like those poor folks at  I wanted to put this comment on a recent post about the SEO / Real McCain campaign, but didn't see anything...


oops (0.00 / 0)
looks like that URL is being capitalized on already... is for sale, but probably by somebody looking for a huge profit.

[ Parent ]
An Anti Flip Flopper is person like (4.00 / 1)
Jesse Helms.
Born a Moron,Lived a Moron and Died a Moron.
Changing positions on current events or for political expediancy is a wise move.

Kerry fertilized the "flip/flop" attack with his own words (4.00 / 2)
"I voted for the war before I voted against it"

One, clean, clear line that made the flip/flop issue stick like industrial krazy glue.

From my perspective, its the FISA issue on which Obama comes closest to flip/flopping, but he has yet to package it up in such a wonderfully concise manner as Mr. Kerry was able to give to his opponents.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

FISA (0.00 / 0)
And even FISA is a change in what he'll fight for, not a change in position.  He still says he supports what he said he supported before and still says he does not support what he did not support before.

The difference is whether or not he'll filibuster or not.

Now, that is a difference big enough for me to withhold contributions for a while, join everyone's favorite myBO group and so on, but it is not a positional change.

And everything else is basically what he always said, just with the bold and italics moved around a bit.

[ Parent ]
"positional change" (4.00 / 1)
While I agree that the Iraq and other "flip-flop" charges are bogus, Obama did in fact change his position on FISA. In defending his previous promise to oppose telecom immunity, he called out Republican fear-mongering and called out the trade-off of liberty for security as a false choice. Now he has embraced the fearmogering and that same "false choice" he previously debunked to support voting for a bill even if it contains telecom immunity.

[ Parent ]
Kerry said the same thing (0.00 / 0)
"He still says he supports what he said he supported before and still says he does not support what he did not support before."

And it was probably true, too.

Maybe I was too subtle or obtuse in making my point.

I don't think that changing positions (flip/flop) is, in and of itself, a terrible thing. It worked (to the extent that it did) against Kerry because his own concise wording opened the door wide, and the opponents capitalized on it.

So far, neither Obama, nor McCain have provided such an open door, therefore we don't see much talk of flip/flops that has any legs.

I see a change in Obama's position vis-a-vis FISA, although some disagree, especially with regard to retro immunity.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Flip Flopping Isn't the problem (4.00 / 2)
It's when the public thinks you might be somebody who doesn't have any real convictions that it becomes a problem.  People already thought that might be the case with Kerry and they exploited it.  I don't think people suspect that about Obama in advance of the attacks, so he's sort of teflon to them.

Chris is right, you have to go after things people already suspect, which is that he's a white hating manchurian candidate.  However, I don't think it's that the flip-flop charge is passé, but that people aren't inclined to believe it with Obama.  

There's a jiu-jitsu move available to Obama here: (0.00 / 0)
The press, as has been well documented, has given McCain an outrageous pass on his flip-flipflops and pandering to the same people he once was acclaimed as a "maverick" for denouncing.

Obama can't change that.  He or his surrogates can't complain about it without it being made to appear as whining.

But, now that McCain's taken up the issue, Obama might be able to counterpunch effectively at it.  Now that McCain's raised flipflopping, maybe it gives Obama more chance to exploit McCain's reversals?

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

Your argument assumes a rational eletorate and neutral media. (0.00 / 0)
Neither is the case.

1) The country elected Bush once, even after it became clear what a rat-bastard he is.
2) Obama's image is not his to control.  His image will be, by Novemeber, whatever McCain and his media buddies say it will be.  His task will be to overcome that.
3) Of course people dislike flip floppers.  They don't dislike those who compromise, or consider multiple viewpoints, but McCain and the media aren't accusing him of compromising, they're accusing him of flip-flopping.  Words matter.
4) Who cares whether John McCain flip flops?  It really doesn't matter.  He's the maverikiest of mavericks.  Steadfast in his super manly steadfastitude.  He could kick a puppy to death live on CNN, whip out his manly package and urinate on the corpse and be excused for it by his buddies in the press.  You think a little thing like inconsistency in his positions is going to matter to them?


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