WASHINGTON, December 13, 2011 — Conservative elites, George Will and Charles Krauthammer leading the charge, have begun to disaggregate the many quandaries plaguing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the putative favorites for Republican presidential nomination.
Both candidates have earned the label “flip-flopper” through long strings of key decisions throughout their political careers. Gingrich has touted the virtues of the individual healthcare mandate, joined Nancy Pelosi (arguably the most liberal Speaker of the House in history} on the global warming bandwagon, called for cap-and-trade energy legislation, labeled Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal right-wing social engineering, and cheered Obama’s Libya intervention, only to backtrack on all of these positions when the political winds shifted.
Romney has likewise flipped his position on abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, immigration, and (most problematically) healthcare. But this election is not about the vacillations of Gingrich or Romney. It is fundamentally a referendum on President Barack Obama. Three years in the West Wing have revealed the hollowness of Obama’s messianic vision: The post-partisan anti-politics with which he promised to govern have given way to further decay of American confidence in their government.
It’s also given him ample time for some major flip-flops of his own.
Flip-flop 1: He vilified the Bush administration for intervening in Iraq, telling the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage in December of 2007, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
He later intervened in Libya — without Congressional approval. In Libya! What said he who berated Bush for his illegal war, the one that actually secured the support of Congress? That his own intellectually nuanced attack on Libya would prevent a massacre that would have “stained the conscience of the world.”
An emphatic defense of national interest Obama’s humanitarian plea was not.
Flip-flop 2: In April 2007, Obama began beating the civil libertarian drums, pledging to shutter Guantanamo and reject the Military Commissions Act. What did he actually do? Was he embarrassed by the disconnect between his grandiose promises and his actual behavior when, in May 2009, his own administration announced that it would restore the commissions as a legitimate forum for persecuting alleged terrorists?
Obama has reversed countless campaign calls for change after recognizing that reality does not care about his lofty ideals. But his liberal base had not interpreted his promise to abolish military commissions to mean that he would make minor modifications to them. They naively understood it as an actual promise to abolish military commissions altogether.
Flip-flop 3: In a 2005 speech on the Senate floor, Obama remarked of the Patriot Act, “This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law,” adding, “if someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document—through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made—this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law.” He finished, “This is just plain wrong.” And in that spirit he signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act. He said of this “just plain wrong” legislation, “It’s an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat.” The subtle thinking required to bridge his contradictory comments is beyond the average voter. Perhaps Obama’s position on national security issues has simply evolved to confront present dangers more effectively. If so, he should be applauded, but surely his convictions on domestic policy have held true? No.
Flip-flop 4: Remember 2006, when a certain Senator from Illinois made the case against the Bush administration’s request for an increase of the debt ceiling to almost $9 trillion? The one who argued, “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally,” and, “America deserves better?”
Yes, America certainly deserves better. It deserves a $14.6 trillion debt ceiling. In calling for that, the president clearly staked out a principled and consistent position, his condemnation of those who opposed his higher debt ceiling containing not a whiff of hypocrisy.
Flip-flop 5: Remember when Obama, the paragon of ethical behavior, claimed that no lobbyists would wield their malignant power within his White House? A cursory glance at the administration’s personnel roster reveals a lobbyist’s fondest dream come true. On the White House’s payroll you’ll find — to mention a few conspicuous rule-breakers — Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services David Corr, and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes. An Obama White House with more elite lobbyist influence than that of the Bush interregnum? Say it ain’t so.
Obama is an equivocator of boundless philosophical and behavioral flexibility. He has flip-flopped on more issues in a shorter time than a lesser man could without brain damage. His now-branded prevarications are worth remembering as a consequence of wayward imagination left unrestrained amidst the storm clouds of pressing issues waiting to rain down on the nation.
Gingrich and Romney may have flip-flopped. But for the past three years, Obama has been the president who has proven repeatedly that he will flip-flop to satisfy his political ambitions.
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