The accusation that one’s opponent is a flip-flopper has become a campaign staple. Obama’s soaring rhetoric of change has opened him to such charges from his more liberal supporters as well as from McCain and his operatives. Measure for measure McCain has a comparable number of flip-flops. Obama has a way to advance his standing by taking all but the most egregious flip-flops out of the campaign conversation.
Barack Obama should think of himself as McCain’s defense attorney. At an opportune time in a short but compelling speech, one that will likely make the television news in its entirety, make a case for McCain being found “not guilty” of the charge of flip flopping.
Simply put, he should defend McCain’s changes as signs of his having an open mind and his being able to change his opinions based on his willingness to learn from past errors of judgment or new information.
Damning with faint praise, you say?
A transparent effort to take the focus off your own flip-flops?
Or perhaps after seven years of the dogmatic Bush and his damn the torpedoes of truth full speed ahead into disaster administration, a call to reset the bar for flexible thinking?
McCain, the little warrior (he’s 5′ 7″) with a king sized temper may not quite be big enough to make it over that bar.
If Obama, who by dint of disposition and conviction can easily step over it, defends McCain’s opinion changes he demonstrates the fact that he’s a classy guy.
Republicans and media pundits on both the right and left persist in claiming that Obama is an unknown quantity, that the public doesn’t really know who he is. From all that I can tell, with Obama, what you see is what you get. He does seem to be spontaneous, at ease with himself, and possesses the kind of dignity we want in a president.
Not that these characteristics win elections.
However, it could gain you votes when your opponent has a crude fighter jock personality, a forced off kilter smile, and a trophy wife (at 54) almost young enough to be his daughter, who he had an affair with while still married to his first wife.
Think of this as a kind of political jujitsu, using the momentum of your opponent’s attacks against him. Within reason and taking care not to be disingenuous, Obama should compliment McCain every chance he can.
Monday morning addendum
The breakfast pundits are all talking about whether Obama’s so-called flip-flop on how and when to withdraw troops from Iraq depending on information gained from when he goes there. Even arch conservative William Kristol, the newest New York Times OpEd writer who I rarely read, and only read this morning because I confused him with Nicholas Kristoff and wondered who Murphy was (see “So where’s Murphy?”), writes:
Even Obama’s adjustments for the general election — his flip-flops — have served in an odd way to enhance his stature. Some of them suggest, after all, that he is at least trying to think seriously about what he would do if he were actually president. So Obama has achieved the important feat, as the campaign has moved on, of seeming an increasingly plausible president. McCain seems a less plausible president today than he did when he clinched the nomination.
In “The Mind and the Obama Magic” George Lakoff, he author of “The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 20th Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain” and a Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, explains five reasons people vote for a candidate:
They are Values (What are the ethical principles that form the basis of your politics?); Authenticity (Do you say what you believe?); Communication (Do you connect with voters and inspire them?); Judgment; Trust; and Identity (If you share voters’ values, connect with them, tell them the truth effectively while inspiring trust, then they will identify with you — and they will vote for you.
Lakoff writes that:
If Obama even appears to adopt Right-wing views for the sake of getting more votes, he will appear to be giving up on his values, renouncing his authenticity and believability, clouding his judgment, and raising questions about whether he can be trusted. The Obama magic will be in danger of fading.
I agree. This is why Obama needs to cast his, and McCain’s, changes in position very carefully. By making flexibility a virtue Obama can protect himself from charges of being a flip-flopper. By asking voters to be more analytic in thinking about the alterations in his position, he can and should challenge them to do likewise with his opponent’s.
Let the public make a reasoned decision as to who is pandering for votes.