August 2004
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Day August 11, 2004

Flip flops, cheap shots, and their irrelevance

Regardless of their effectiveness at cementing support among each party’s base, I have to admit that I’m very tired of reading the “flip flop” examples — on both sides. You’ll notice that Extended Phenotype has not featured any such material, and I intend this to be my only post on the subject. But I read blogs and media from “both sides of the aisle” and I think I finally went over the edge reading California Yankee’s post on Kerry’s “consistency” tonight. I don’t mean to pick on him specifically; this particular genus of campaign discussion is rampant in the regular press as well as the blogging world (I also have to say the term “blogosphere” is starting to drive me nuts).

I’m tired of how much we all focus on voting record and position inconsistencies, using them as cheap shots. And I’m not just saying this as a Democrat smarting from attacks on my candidate; anyone competent with Google can find lists of position changes and inconsistencies for George W. Bush in under a minute. (Hint: assault weapons, steel tariffs, military nation-building, Dept. of Homeland Security, and even gay marriage). I’m not going to present any links to Bush “flip flops” — you’re on your own there.

I will say, though, that in my opinion none of this means a damned thing, on either side. Expecting absolute consistency from any long-time politician is ludicrous, because it ignores the very real influence of compromises, deal-making, party-line voting, and negotiation that goes into the legislative process. We don’t send politicians to Congress to be rock-stable philosophers, we send politicians to pass legislation. And anyone who’s been involved in the process can tell you how messy it can get.

And that’s not to mention the possibility that a politican simply changes their mind on an issue given new information. People on both sides of the aisle have been known to do this, and when they do, we should applaud rather than condemn, because it means they’re learning and putting that learning to good use.

But none of that is discussed whenever we roll up someone’s voting record and use it like a club, to beat the opposition into submission. The complexities, which affect both sides, are conveniently forgotten.

Nevertheless, worse is the fact that Kerry seems rattled by such criticisms. California Yankee is correct (as he often is): claims by Kerry of “consistency” do nothing to defuse the power of the accusation, and merely look ridiculous. What would be more effective would be Kerry discussing the factors I mentioned two paragraphs ago. Kerry talks about how he is better suited to deal with complexity, and arguably he is, but what he isn’t showing us is any sign that he can explain it in the campaign. And to that extent, he’s losing opportunities to (a) gain support from intelligent folks still on the fence, and (b) defuse what may be the Bush campaign’s most powerful weapon.

In the final analysis, however, I’m mostly just sick of the space and words that cheap shots like this take up, when we ought to be spending our time figuring out what we expect the winner to do for the next four years. Regardless of who wins, the next four years present some mountainous challenges, and nobody is discussing realistic solutions — all we hear is “campaign solutions.”

So here at Extended Phenotype, you’re going to see me focusing less on campaign tactics, and more on what I believe the next four years ought to bring. Campaign discussion is interesting only from the perspective that it actually — and usually accidentally — reveals something about a candidate’s true agenda.