The flip-flop flip-flop
Posted by metaphorical on 19 August 2008
“This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”
Sounds a bit arrogant, doesn’t it?
But what if the entire quote is this:
It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.
Dana Milbank, at that new bastion of conservative politics, The Washington Post, pulled the first quote out of the second and used to make the case that Barak Obama is, if not an uppity black man riding on the backs of hard-working whites, then at least a typical politician obsessed with his place in history.
As the Huffington Post put it,
For Milbank’s part, it was all because he wanted to wedge the statement into his preferred frame: “Barack Obama has long been his party’s presumptive nominee. Now he’s becoming its presumptuous nominee.”
And as Robert Parry over at Consortium News put it, “the true meaning of the Obama quote appears to have been almost the opposite of how Milbank used it.”
To put it as simply as possible, which part of “not about me at all” does Milbank not get?
This post is about events almost a month old, but the media’s misbegotten storyline about flip-flopping just gets more and more embedded in the campaign’s narrative. Parry notes that the Post has yet to retract or at even clarify the quote for its readers. He’s generally worried about the media coverage of the candidates. Referring to another speech given early this month, when the stench of the Milbank misquote was still fresh in the air, Parry pointed out that
Obama gave a detail-rich speech on how he would address the energy crisis, which is a major point of concern among Americans. From ideas for energy innovation to retrofitting the U.S. auto industry to conservation steps to limited new offshore drilling, Obama did what he is often accused of not doing, fleshing out his soaring rhetoric.
McCain responded with a harsh critique of Obama’s calls for more conservation, claiming that Obama wants to solve the energy crisis by having people inflate their tires. McCain’s campaign even passed out a tire gauge marked as Obama’s energy plan.
For his part, McCain made clear he wanted to drill for more oil wherever it could be found and to build many more nuclear power plants.
These competing plans offered a chance for the evening news to address an issue of substance that is high on the voters’ agenda. Instead, NBC News anchor Brian Williams devoted 30 seconds to the dueling energy speeches, without any details and with the witty opening line that Obama was “refining” his energy plan.
The media, Parry says, is all to happy to pick up on the McCain spin that Obama is a flip-flopper, despite all evidence that the flip-flop belongs on the other foot – McCains.
… as for flip-flops, McCain’s dramatic repositioning of himself as an anti-environmentalist – after years of being one of the green movement’s favorite Republicans – represents a far more significant change than Obama’s modest waffling on offshore oil.
In my opinion, the mere fact that McCain could come crawling back into bed with George Bush, after Bush torpedoed McCain from his front-running position early in the 2000 presidential campaign with a particularly vicious smear attack in the critical South Carolina primary. The smear, which made the implication that McCain had fathered a dark-skinned child that he and his wife adopted from a Mother Teresa orphanage, was made all the more successful by its outrageous implausibility. It’s been widely documented, but there’s a particularly good account that McCain’s then-campaign manager gave in a Boston Globe op-ed piece in 2004.
Having run Senator John McCain’s campaign for president, I can recount a textbook example of a smear made against McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential primary. We had just swept into the state from New Hampshire, where we had racked up a shocking, 19-point win over the heavily favored George W. Bush. What followed was a primary campaign that would make history for its negativity.
In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.
It didn’t take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.
Anonymous opponents used “push polling” to suggest that McCain’s Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the “pollster” determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.
Thus, the “pollsters” asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that’s not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.
For McCain to turn around and campaign heavily for Bush in 2004, become a leading supporter of Bush’s surge in Iraq, and defend Bush’s unconstitutional mass wiretaps, is both the height of cynical politics and flip-flopping at its finest. John Dickerson described McCain’s base motives back in 2005. The main one, of course, is money – campaign money, millions of dollars of it.
This is shaping up to be one of those campaigns where it’s hard to see how the Republican nominee has any credibility at all, and yet he could win. McCain and his friend and fellow master-flip-flopper, Joe Lieberman, are almost singlehandedly responsible for Congress’s continued support for, and financing of, the Iraqi war. How Mr War Record could let us leave Afghanistan in media res is one of the great mysteries of this campaign, but it seems the media won’t demand an answer to what should be the res on which the 2008 election turns.
This election will be a close one because a press corps that prefers image to substance is giving the candidate of image a leg up on the candidate of substance.