Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama and the Perils of Flip-Flopping

A TIME TO LEARN. Hopefully, Barack Obama is continuing to learn what it's like to be a Democratic presidential candidate. Certainly, there was a lot to learn today. At his first news conference today, Obama indicated that he might "refine" his Iraq policy upon conferring with the commanders on the ground. Obama didn't realize this, but that word "refine" would spark a media/blogosphere firestorm which would force him to call a second press conference to explain that he wasn't going to change his position on withdrawing the troops from Iraq. He still wants to withdraw American troops within sixteen months of taking office.

The main thing that Obama needs to learn is why there was a media firestorm over one little word like "refine."

THE TWO MAIN LESSONS. Obama claims not to read liberal blogs. He should really think twice about that. As any self-respecting liberal blogger would tell him, Lesson No. 1 is that the mainstream media is primarily a medium for conveying right-wing rumors and stereotyping of Democratic presidential candidates to the broader public. As Mark Halperin of Time once claimed, Matt Drudge (of the right-wing gossip site "The Drudge Report") rules their world. So do Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly.

Lesson No. 2 is that the right allows two options for Democratic presidential candidates. Either Democratic candidates are dangerous, leftist, nut jobs who hate god, raise taxes, and are out of touch with the mainstream or they are opportunistic flip-floppers who would do anything to get elected. If Democratic candidates are John Edwards types who stand for liberal or progressive principles, the right stigmatizes them as "out of touch." If they're Bill Clinton types who seek compromise, bridge-building, or common ground, the right views them as unprincipled flip-floppers, and also scorns them as "weak" and "spineless" for "caving" into the Republican agenda. It's a simple but effective formula. Whichever way a Democrat turns, the right has a stereotype for the occasion.

The links between the right-wing communication apparatus and the mainstream media is also pretty simple. First, the "out of touch nut job" and "opportunistic flip-flopper" stereotypes are conveyed as accusations by Republican spinners, conservative op-ed writers, and right-wing radio talkers and bloggers. For anyone interested in how the stigmatizing works, Sean Hannity is pretty close to being a stereotyping machine. The networks and cable then adopt the stereotypes as the main template from which they report information and "raise questions" about Democratic candidates. Most reporters and anchors might be registered Democrats but they function as an reliable funnel for right-wing views on Democratic presidential candidates. They tend to like conservative spin-masters like Karl Rove. They also like the hyped-up aggression and cynicism of the Republicans and have considerable disdain for Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? What happened to Barack Obama today was that the mainstream media was in Democrat as "opportunistic flip-flopper" mode because of Obama's flip-flop on the FISA bill. McCain surrogate Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas was already baiting Obama about his Iraq stance last week. Others were referring to Obama as weak and spineless. Owing to the strange alchemy of politics, last weeks's stereotypes became this week's expectations. According to Talking Points Memo, rumors were already circulating before Obama's press conference that he was going to change his stance on Iraq. By using the term "refine," Obama turned the "expectations" that he himself created with his FISA stance into the raging inferno of "breaking news."

THE CHOICE. My opinion is that Obama wants to have progressive principles and be open to negotiation, compromise, and seeking common ground with the Republicans. But I don't think he's going to be able to get away with that during the presidential campaign. He's going to have to choose his poison--either allow himself to be stereotyped as an "out of touch nut case" or as an "opportunistic flip flopper." During the Democratic primaries, Obama chose "progressive principles" and "out of touch" stereotypes and won. Maybe there's a lesson there.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Hi Ric,

Well, have I disappeared for a long while or what? And can't say i'm back for long but greetings and bravo for some very well-observed comments -- particularly here (both of your lessons to/for Obama are, imo, on the money) and in your new post today (7/10) which i'll comment on as well ...

It's been a shock to the system to see such about-faceness of late ... For all the chagrin I felt at times (and overall) with both Kerry in 04 and Gore in 00 in their failures to assert themselves, for their occasional clumsinesses, for downplaying their strengths (notably on environmental issues in both cases) and pandering to right-wing stuff like gun-toting foolery, I don't recall ever feeling they'd sold out on principle/policy in quite this way. And it pains me to say I'm grateful that I hadn't invested much -- time or money or "faith" -- this time around, mostly for personal reasons of having too much on my/our "home plate" this year (which is also why i haven't made it to your site in ages, must less posting) ...

As you know, I've always been on the MSM bandwagon, which makes your cogent first lesson immediately strike me as on target, and particularly well noted.

And I fully agree about the "dilemma" which GOP attack machines (that I labeled the 'mockery machine' or something like that back in 04 or maybe it was 02) foist on us all to make it a losing game to try to appease them or the MSM that the Mockery tactic sucks in ... Oh how the MSM loves to join the mockery, seems to make them feel somehow sophisticated. Imagine. What a perverse blindness to self they exhibit.

Obama's caving to this is (despite my detachedness this year, and having voted for Edwards in the primary but wanted to see Obama be all he professed to be) frankly still heart-breaking to behold. And largely because of the failure it displays to recognize what matters to voters at their sincerest -- and I do believe voters (unlike their politicians) are reliably sincere in choosing who they vote for. And thus sincerity in a candidate is what they most relate to.

And on that score Obama has spent two-plus weeks setting off landmines of imploding sincerity.

His vote on FISA is the most egregious, in part for most violently imploding his own sincerity. There are no nuances to seek refuge in when you say you pledge to filibuster something and then you do the exact opposite and vote for cloture to end that very filibuster you pledged to. And, of course, in second part, it's egregious because he seems to fail to see what he's voted for -- and, my god, who he's voted WITH. You'd think the line-up of "allies" alone would give a "sincere" Democratic candidate the willies. There are ONLY right-of-center guys (be they labelled GOP or Dem) on his chosen side of this vote. And the substance is totally against him, as already well documented in the Greenwald and other links you've pointed to.

There's also the stances on guns and death penalty and faith-based, each of which some folks try to rationalize as being "consistent" with where he has been before. Well, just last night I read someone on an NYT blog, quoting from the Newsweek blogger "Stumper," finally actually quote from his book the alleged "proof" that he's being consistent when he decries the SCOTUS decision (the only decent SCOTUS decision they made in their last batch, as I recall) that overturned the Louisiana death penalty for child rapists. The quote from Obama's book which "Stumper" (Newsweek's Andrew Romano) was that:
"In fact, Obama's death-penalty stance dates back at least to 2006, when he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope" that "there are some crimes--mass murder, the rape and murder of a child--so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment."

Romano italicized "rape and murder of a child" to make his point. But -- where do they get these MSM people? -- the quote ironically makes exactly the OPPOSITE point. If that quote is accurate, then Obama was citing two instances he thought warranted the death penalty: a) mass murder; and b) the rape AND death of a child. Meaning that a single murder warrants the death penalty if that murder is of a child and also includes rape. Rape is indeed horrific, rape of a child even more horrific, but it isn't murder and even Obama seems to have said in his book "rape and murder." (Of course, i'm biased because I oppose all death penalty and believe in life without parole for such cases, including child rape.)

The point here is that Obama was NOT taking a stance in his book that his current siding with Scalia Inc. on this case would find being consistent.

Then on faith-based programs: It's fine to encourage them. Of course, Obama has a history of work with community faith-based groups. That does NOT mean you overthrow the 1st amendment and FUND them federally. The leap people are making to say that it's consistent for him to now wish to even expand on Bush's utterly unconstitutional faith-based program, which was so clearly a "reward" to his own constituency with federal subsidy, has no logic behind it. Nothing prepared us voters to expect such a program out of him that I know of. We've had 8 years of Bush siphoning off all government money into the hands of his cronies -- either his mega-CEO (and especially the oily) ones, the fat cats getting fatter, or his born-again ones, granting them both money and righteous affirmation with an activist SCOTUS to grant their unique belief system greater sway.

It's all just sickening to see the caving in to such Bushism.

But bravo to you, RC, for, I now see, keeping up the side of logic and common sense here, and making some important points in that direction ... Hope all's well on your domestic front ...

good wishes,