Monday, July 7, 2008

The Chameleon Candidate & Mr. Dionne's Confusion

E.J. Dionne, the leftist aparatchik who doles out his pablum at the Washington Post, is unable to distinguish principle from expediency, nor cynical opportunism from reacting to changed circumstances. Nonetheless, he indadvertently gives us the perfect moniker for Obama, a man who has flipped and flopped so much that he has transcended the act and now is more appropriately referred to as the Chameleon Candidate.


Mr. Dionne's confusion about Mr. Obama is perfectly understandable. It is difficult indeed to claim any color of principle for an individual who changes those colors with the speed and seamlessness of a chameleon. This from Mr. Dionne, writing in the Washington Post today:

When a candidate calls a second news conference to say the same thing he thought he said at the first one, you know he knows he has a problem.

Thus Barack Obama's twin news conferences last week in Fargo, N.D. At his first, Obama promised to do a "thorough assessment" of his Iraq policy in his coming visit there and "continue to gather information" to "make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable."

You might ask: What's wrong with that? A commander in chief willing to adjust his view to facts and realities should be a refreshing idea.

But when news reports suggested Obama was backing away from his commitment to withdrawing troops from Iraq in 16 months, Obama's lieutenants no doubt heard echoes of those cries of "flip-flop" that rocked the 2004 Republican National Convention and proved devastating to John Kerry.

So out Obama came again to reiterate his timeline. "Apparently, I wasn't clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq," he said. "I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war -- responsibly, deliberately, but decisively."

The unsteady moment suggested that Obama has not figured out how to slip the trap John McCain's campaign is trying to set for him. As Michael Cooper and Jeff Zeleny shrewdly put it in the New York Times, Republicans want to place Obama "in the political equivalent of a double bind: painting him as impervious to the changing reality on the ground if he sticks to his plan, and as a flip-flopper if he alters it to reflect changing circumstances."

That Mr. Dionne sees this as a simple trap from the McCain campaign speaks of the depth of his confusion. The problem here is not that Obama wants to change his mind. There are few Americans outside the America hating far left who would not embrace that. Indeed, a good leader is one who remains true to his principles while maintaining flexibility to change plans to most effectively persue those principles as facts on the ground change. Mr. Obama's problem is not with a lack of flexibility, its with a lack of principles beyond his own ambition.

Obama has been embracing defeat loudly and clearly for a long time. Obama even went so far as to say that genocide would be an acceptable outcome in Iraq as opposed to staying in that country to win the war and stabilize the country. Despite clearly changing facts in Iraq, Obama has been consistent in his calls for withdrawal and consistent in his utter refusal to acknowledge both military and political success in Iraq - until now when it is expedient to do so.

Thus, when Obama gives indication that he will now "refine" his othewise crystal clear position - a position never heretofore tied to the situation on the ground - the problem he faces is larger than the issue of Iraq itself. It is not that he is reacting to a changed situation. He is clearly moving to the right because of votes. As to whether any actual principles beyond ambition are underlying that move, it is an open question and one which America needs answered. Dionne sees this as a tactical political problem and is apparently unable to discern that this is a core issue that goes to the character and judgment of a politician who is asking us to trust him with the most powerful position in the world.

To continue with Mr. Dionne:

The flip-flop charge may be of limited use to the GOP this year because McCain has changed his own positions rather promiscuously on matters such as taxes and offshore drilling. Even on Iraq, one of McCain's signature issues, the Straight Talker has shifted his emphasis.

Let's assist Mr. Dionne with some definitions.

A flip flop is a change in political positions based on pure political expediency, irrespective of the changing conditions. It is an act of opportunistic cynicsm that shows a lack of principles and an overabundance of disingenuousness and ambition. That is Obama's problem on essentially every major issue in the race, and in particular on Iraq.

The flip side of it all, if you will, is a refusal to change positions in response to significantly changing conditions. That can be either a mark of principle or a mark of a partisan. McCain's refusal to alter positions on the Iraq war when it clearly looked to cost him his primary bid was clearly a stand on principal. To call McCain's changed position on off-shore drilling a flip flop given that we are facing an energy crisis that could well tank our economy over the next few years is a bit partisan idiocy. On the other hand, Obama's refusal to do anything on this issue that would upset the green special interests certainly suggests partisanship.

With the terms defined, the basis for Mr. Dionne's confusion becomes a bit clearer. To continue:

. . . Republicans are pressing Obama on Iraq because they know that any new moves he makes will be interpreted, fairly or not, as a change in position and that this will hurt him with two groups: the antiwar base of the Democratic Party and independent voters, many of whom are just tuning in to the campaign.

Painting Obama as a shameless shape-shifter is a way for his opponents to dull the enthusiasm (and inhibit the campaign contributions) of the war's staunchest foes. And if this image stuck, it could also hurt Obama among independents. They might vote for a hawk or a dove, but not a chameleon.

To interject here, I have to thank Dionne. The comparison of Obama to a chameleon who changes color depending on the environment of the moment could not be more apt. Indeed, Obama has changed so much so quickly, the moniker of flip flop does not do him justice, but "chameleon" candidate hits the nail on the head. And finally from Mr. Dionne:

Over the past week, Obama has been crafty in the way he has sought the political middle ground. He has emphasized his "values" and touted his patriotism, his call to service and his faith, as he did Saturday at a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. That is quite different from backing off his core promises.

Voters accept that a president may alter the details of campaign promises. What they expect is a clear sense of the direction he will take. At the moment, voters know that John McCain is far more likely than Barack Obama to continue the war in Iraq indefinitely. Obama would be foolish to blur that distinction.

Obama's hypocrisy in touting "Christian values" and his "faith," given that it is soaked in a brand and degree of racism that should disqualify him from election as dog catcher, is beyond belief. Worse is the complicity of the MSM in burying this issue.

As to the "core promises," much like his achievements, is is possible to name one with any degree of confidence? I know of no major issue where it is possible to say that Obama has remained consistent.

[Update: Powerline also deconstructed the Dionne article, though I think they come to at least a partially erroneous conclusion. The from Powerline:

Barack Obama’s campaign grows more “refined” by the day. On issue after high profile issue – Iraq, abortion, gun control, Reverend Wright – Obama changes positions the way most people change clothes. It’s gotten so bad that even E.J. Dionne has noticed. (Dionne’s column about Obama’s flip-flopping on Iraq is called “The Stand That Obama Can’t Fudge.” Dionne thus simultaneously recognizes and excuses Obama’s fudging on everything else).

The more Obama fudges, the more he confirms his status as the true heir to Bill Clinton. As I wrote back in April:

Hillary is the nominal Clinton in this year's presidential race, but it's Obama who increasingly bears the resemblance to Bill. . . .[R]ecently it’s become clear that, like the former president, Obama is fundamentally unserious about vital issues, including even those pertaining to war and peace. For both men, issues are not at root substantive problems to be addressed on their merits, but formal matters to be navigated and, to the extent possible, manipulated. . . . How else to explain [Clinton’s] statement about how he would have voted on the first Gulf War: “I would have voted for [the war resolution] if [the vote] was close, but the Democrats had the better arguments”?

At one level, this approach to issues is post-modern -- a variation of the academic school that sees texts as infinitely malleable instruments with no fixed meaning, just waiting to be put to whatever use we find amusing. Substitute “issues” for “texts” and “expedient” for “amusing,” and you have described the essence of the Clinton-Obama political school.

Where I take issue with Powerline is their portrayal of Obama as merely a copy of Clinton. Clinton never, to my recollection, ever approached what we are seeing from Mr. Obama in sheer volume of maleable principles and daily changing positions. By comparison, Clinton was a paragon of principle.]

At any rate, as his colum makes clear, Mr. Dionne is simply unable to distinguish people acting on principles from those acting on pure ambition and expediency. That says as much about the Chamelon Candidate as it does about Mr. Dionne and his left wing compatriots.

You can find Mr. Dionne's entire article here.

1 comment:

vinny said...

Nice poster. I now understand what he meant by change.