Who’s the REAL Flip-Flopper?

Flips, flops, and flounders by President Bush

In a presidential campaign filled with unintended ironies, perhaps the greatest is Rove’s attempt to paint John Kerry as a “flip-flopper,” an obvious attempt to blur his image with Clinton’s in the eyes of the base. The irony in this is particularly poignant because Bush has reversed himself more times than a manic-depressive swing voter.

Now as a dedicated liberal who believes in matching policies to facts and evidence, I don’t think that this is a bad thing in and of itself. Entirely aside from the hypocrisy, however, many of the administration’s flips were based entirely on self-serving political interests. Worse, some of his reversals were on moderate stances the Bush campaign took in 2000. It would be easy to get the impression that Bush wasn’t being — could it be? — entirely honest.

While there are a lot of liberal sites out there that cover Bush’s, er, imperfect record on “staying the course,” I believe that one of the best is Flip-Flopper-In-Chief by the excellent Center for American Progress. Here are a few of my favorites:

GOVERNOR BUSH VETOES PATIENTS’ RIGHT TO SUE… “Despite his campaign rhetoric in favor of a patients’ bill of rights, Bush fought such a bill tooth and nail as Texas governor, vetoing a bill coauthored by Republican state Rep. John Smithee in 1995. He… constantly opposed a patient’s right to sue an HMO over coverage denied that resulted in adverse health effects.” [Salon, 2/7/01]

…CANDIDATE BUSH PRAISES TEXAS PATIENTS’ RIGHT TO SUE… “We’re one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage… It’s time for our nation to come together and do what’s right for the people. And I think this is right for the people. You know, I support a national patients’ bill of rights, Mr. Vice President. And I want all people covered. I don’t want the law to supersede good law like we’ve got in Texas.” [Governor Bush, 10/17/00]

…PRESIDENT BUSH’S ADMINISTRATION ARGUES AGAINST RIGHT TO SUE “To let two Texas consumers, Juan Davila and Ruby R. Calad, sue their managed-care companies for wrongful denials of medical benefits ‘would be to completely undermine’ federal law regulating employee benefits, Assistant Solicitor General James A. Feldman said at oral argument March 23. Moreover, the administration’s brief attacked the policy rationale for Texas’s law, which is similar to statutes on the books in nine other states.” [Washington Post, 4/5/04]

This may be the best example of his campaign’s willingness to flat-out lie about their policy stances. While other issues may be more pressing, this one is the most blatant. Before the Texas law was passed, Governor Bush tried to kill it. During his campaign, he praised it. Then after he was president, he tried to kill it again.

Then there’s this beauty:

BUSH PROMISES TO FORCE OPEC TO LOWER PRICES… “What I think the president ought to do [when gas prices spike] is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say we expect you to open your spigots…And the president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price.” [President Bush, 1/26/00]

…BUSH REFUSES TO LOBBY OPEC LEADERS With gas prices soaring in the United States at the beginning of 2004, the Miami Herald reported the president refused to “personally lobby oil cartel leaders to change their minds.” [Miami Herald, 4/1/04] [link was to http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/business/national/8332331.htm]

On this issue, I’m more than willing to believe that Dubya truly thought he could just nudge nudge, wink wink at his buddy Bandar Bush and OPEC would just roll over. He certainly didn’t run away from his connections to the industry on this issue, claiming that his ties to oil would allow him to be particularly effective. However, when push came to shove, Bush decided to pass. Why? Beats me. Maybe he didn’t want to risk those very ties when, even if he wins in ’04, he has to go back to the private sector eventually. Regardless, there can be little question that Bush flopped epically on oil prices.

And of course, who could forget the unrelenting stand President Bush took on refusing to allow Rice to testify?

BUSH SPOKESMAN SAYS RICE WON’T TESTIFY AS ‘A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE’… “Again, this is not her personal preference; this goes back to a matter of principle. There is a separation of powers issue involved here. Historically, White House staffers do not testify before legislative bodies. So it’s a matter of principle, not a matter of preference.” [White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, 3/9/04]

…BUSH ORDERS RICE TO TESTIFY: “Today I have informed the Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States that my National Security Advisor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will provide public testimony.” [President Bush, 3/30/04]

This was playing to the polls, pure, simple, and cynical. When Rove thought looking tough would serve them better, Bush was stern and defiant. When Rove realized that the Democrats were using this issue like a club, he calculated that the country would eventually forget her quoting the title of that August 6th briefing — “Bin Laden Determined to Attack US,” in case you’d forgotten — and pushed the waffle button on Dubya’s back. (He probably hadn’t counted on Michael Moore splicing this classic moment into his movie.)

Most disturbingly, he’s even floundered on the most dangerous enemy we have:

BUSH WANTS OSAMA DEAD OR ALIVE… “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'” [President Bush, on Osama Bin Laden, 09/17/01]

…BUSH DOESN’T CARE ABOUT OSAMA “I don’t know where he is.You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him… I truly am not that concerned about him.”[President Bush, Press Conference, 3/13/02]

Six months after the attacks. A full year before the war with Saddam *cough* Iraq. What the devil is his excuse for this? Wasn’t Bush supposed to be the war president? Oh, wait, he wants to be the peace president now. Perhaps he’ll found a Ministry of Peace.

Rove’s hit squad — the RNC’s Ministry of Truth — has been attacking Kerry both for being an ultra-liberal far to the left of mainstream America, while simultaneously portraying him as a waffler of epic proportions, willing to take any position to advance his career. While Kerry does have trouble articulating his nuances at times, that is almost exclusively the situation being distorted. And certainly, Kerry is about as progressive as a presidential candidate can be today while still having a chance of victory.

However, this is a towering case of projection. Bush’s black-and-white universe almost compels him to change his position completely, when he changes it at all — subtlety is anathema to him. They believe that a candidate can simultaneously be an ideological crusader and a cynical opportunist because Bush’s administration is the very template for such a presidency. They change direction on anything that doesn’t truly matter to them when convenient, while “staying the course” on their pet projects — and distorting their positions shamelessly when necessary. For such a supposedly devout Christian, one would have thought that Bush would be careful about pointing at motes in the eyes of others. It’s a wonder he can see anything through the beam in his own.

(/) Roland X
“Our world is unconquerable because the human spirit is unconquerable.” — Al Gore

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