by Damozel | Jonathan Chait has an interesting article at The New Republic on the way in which Democrats, by preempting traditional Republican issues, helped push them into campaigning on character (e.g., trust, honesty, and the rest).
[E]very four years, we have a Democratic candidate campaigning on health care, the minimum wage, education, Medicare, or Social Security, and a Republican candidate campaigning on themes like Trust, Courage, and so forth. President Bush in 2004 was explicit about his elevation of character over issues: "Even when we don't agree," he would say, "at least you know what I believe and where I stand."
You'd think after Bush, Republican voters would have learned to be wary when their candidates compliment themselves on their own characters, but anyway.
Chait hones in on the accusation that always annoys me: 'flip-flopping.'
The details of the Republican character narrative vary a bit from campaign to campaign. (In 1992, 1996, and 2008, Republicans waxed rhapsodic about the moral virtues inherent in military service; in 2000 and 2004, they played them down.) The alleged flip-floppiness of the Democratic nominee, though, is a hardy perennial. Flip-flopping is a simple accusation that campaign reporters can sink their teeth into. Moreover, there's always grist for the accusation, because getting to the position of running for president without changing your stance on a few issues is essentially impossible.
As I've said before, changing your position based on new information in order to correct an error is a good thing. Flip-flopping is only suspect when you do it for the sole purpose of getting people to vote for you. There's good flip-flopping and bad flip-flopping. Obama's definitely done some of the bad, self-serving kind (FISA, NAFTA, public funding for the campaign). Yep.
But....hey, what do you know?
If one needs any final proof of the ridiculousness of this quadrennial exercise, it is the fact that John McCain has embraced the flip-flopper attack. John McCain! I've said this before, I'll say it again: This is a man who, in his quest to make himself an acceptable GOP nominee, reversed his political philosophy (crusading anti-business progressive in the Teddy Roosevelt mode); his political orientation (frequently siding with, and nearly joining, Senate Democrats); and almost every particular undergirding it (taxes, the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, his own immigration bill, etc.). But if you actually think that flip-flopping is a sign of flawed character, and not just a handy partisan cudgel, then, sure, Obama might be slightly cynical, but McCain must be a dangerous sociopath.
I've commented before on the many, many reversals of this Senator I once rather admired, and have listed a number of instances.