Of course, they also attack principled reversals as flip flopping, an equally despicable tactic I already denounced (later in my post on McCain's YouTube Problem). For example, Obama has explained quite well why he has reconsidered the offshore drilling problem and is willing to make some compromises on it, just as he has been willing to do on other issues (an example of the very bipartisan compromising we have always been asking for, so it would be rather lame to complain about it). But today I'm talking about flops that in fact were never even flipped (something I mentioned in comments on my previous post on Obama's New Solution, where I also discussed the very similar compromise Obama worked out on FISA, when he once again explained to the public calmly and reasonably why he did that and how he felt about it).
A good general example of this dishonest tactic in full force is in the Washington Post, where right-wing editorialist Charles Krauthammer claims the following (in "A Man of Seasonal Principles" and "The Ever-Malleable Mr. Obama"), which I've broken down item-by-item:
1. The Great Flag-Pin Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama "is now wearing a flag pin" despite the fact that he didn't use to, and when asked why not, he said, in effect (and in many different ways, on many different occasions--a testimony to the pettiness of Americans that he was constantly asked such a stupid question), that one shouldn't have to wave flags to prove your patriotism.
THE TRUTH: Obama did then and does now sometimes wear a pin and sometimes not. Nothing has changed. Other candidates (including McCain) have not worn it every day, too. Obama is, however, the only candidate who said he went without it during a certain short period because he thought to keep wearing it all the time sent a fake message. He's right. (see Obama's Flag Pin Flip-Flop?). Because Americans made such an issue of something so vapid and trivial, Obama may have become more conscious of the pin than he was before (see the FactChecker article on it). This again can only be because of the stupidity of American pundits making it an issue, turning this into a rather amusing example of criticizing a man when he doesn't do what you want, and then criticizing him when he does.
2. The Amazing Gun Lobby Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama has suddenly come out as a gun supporter by praising the Supreme Court's overturning of a D.C. ban on handguns.
THE TRUTH: Obama did not praise the Supreme Court's overturning of a D.C. ban on handguns (see his actual Statement). He praised the Supreme Court's upholding of the rights of communities to regulate gun ownership, not its overturning of the ban. In other words, he did not agree with the court that the D.C. ban was unconstitutional. He said he was glad the court didn't overthrow all rights to regulate guns. Obama has always supported regulated gun ownership (ironically as demonstrated in a video that purports to show him flip-flopping on this issue but actually doesn't). I seem to recall McCain used to share this position, too. But for Obama, nothing has changed.
3. The Timorous Timetable Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama is flip-flopping his position on Iraq, and now it is the same as McCain's, for he is about to "formally abandon his primary season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops," which we know because Obama recently said his "original position" on withdrawal has always been that "we've got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable" and that he will "have more information and will continue to refine" his policies accordingly. So, as this proves, "the flip is almost complete."
THE TRUTH: Obama has always maintained that decisions about Iraq had to be based on new and changing information and that he had to rely on what his generals told him. He remains committed to getting our troops out of there as soon as is actually possible and so far sees no evidence that his plan of a sixteen-month withdrawal will have to change. But if things change, of course he may have to change his plan, and he has always said so. "I would be a poor Commander-in-Chief if I didn't," a point he has made before (See Obama Iraq Transcript and his Official Website). So again, nothing has changed.
4. The Feisty FISA Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama reversed his opposition to the Patriot Act by voting to extend it.
THE TRUTH: Obama voted for a FISA amendment bill that fixed what was wrong with the Patriot Act. He acknowledged that he was still unhappy about the immunity provisions of that bill but that he could not get it passed without them (see my discussion here and in more detail here and in my continuing comments thereafter). He is still trying to get those retroactive immunities removed with a follow-up bill, but he admitted from the start that he had to compromise in this way to get the other changes he wanted, which are the changes he always wanted: all surveillance now requires warrants, and the warrant-granting system now must be monitored and audited regularly. For Obama, once again, nothing has changed.
5. The Frisky Filibuster Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama said he would filibuster any FISA bill with the immunity provisions. He didn't.
THE TRUTH: Obama said he would support such a filibuster, not that he would filibuster single-handedly. To be practical, a filibuster requires the entire party apparatus to go along. It didn't. Obama can't filibuster a bill on his own (it only takes 60% of sitting Senators to kill a filibuster so unless you have nearly a majority on your side, you can't do it). There is nothing Obama could do about his party's refusal to filibuster the immunity provisions, so he was forced to compromise to get what he wanted (per above). And that's exactly what he said. Nothing has changed.
6. The Nifty NAFTA Flip-Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama once "thoroughly trashed the North American Free Trade Agreement, pledging to force a renegotiation, take 'the hammer' to Canada and Mexico and threaten unilateral abrogation" but now he supports NAFTA, calling his previous NAFTA rhetoric "overheated."
THE TRUTH: Obama agrees he sometimes went too far with his rhetoric (actually a bit of honesty you don't get from McCain) but he never "thoroughly trashed" NAFTA (in fact he has always supported it) and he never promised to take 'the hammer' to Canada and Mexico. He said "I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced," in other words to improve NAFTA, not abolish it. That is still his position. Nothing has changed.
On this you can read the helpful stories by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and CNN, as well as the nice debunking story on CrossWalk and the balanced analyses at FactChecker (see Parses Words and NAFTAGate). Incidentally, Obama's reference to an opt-out is not a reference to "unilateral abrogation" (as the ironically-named Krauthammer claimed), but to a six-month opt-out clause that is actually in the treaty and thus was an option already openly agreed to by all parties. Using an existing clause for an allowed temporary action is not the same thing as withdrawing from the treaty.
7. The "I'll Have Tea with Hitler" Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama has abandoned "his primary season pledge to meet 'without preconditions' with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There will be 'preparations', you see, which are being spun by his aides into the functional equivalent of preconditions."
THE TRUTH: Obama never said he would meet anyone 'without preconditions'. That was said by a questioner, not Obama, who may have missed that phrase in an otherwise long question (an obvious fact overlooked by the otherwise-apt FactChecker item on this--as a public speaker myself, I can easily see missing such a minute detail in a long question). Obama answered by saying only that he would meet with hostile foreign leaders (not whether he would or wouldn't set conditions), and that if he did, he would tell them they have to shoulder some of the responsibilities for maintaining regional peace (see the original video and related articles at the Washington Post and the New York Times). Which is an entirely reasonable position to maintain.
Though on his website Obama says he "is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," that is not the same thing as "meeting" with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Diplomatically there is a very significant difference between engaging direct diplomacy with a nation and personally meeting with a foreign leader. Obviously we should be engaging in diplomacy without preconditions with all nations. All that means is that we will talk to them and negotiate with them whenever they are willing to listen (rather than petulantly requiring them to meet our demands before we will even pick up the phone). This is what Obama has always said. Nothing has changed.
8. The Campaign Finance Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama pledged to stick to public financing of his campaign, then flip-flopped by opting out when he was earning more cash on his own.
THE TRUTH: Obama never made any such pledge. Once when asked to raise his hand if he supported public campaign financing, he raised his hand. In other words, he supports the existence of a public campaign financing system. That's not the same thing as saying he was going to use it. In fact he repeatedly said he would not make a decision on the matter until the deadline, and has always maintained that he likes the idea of public financing but that it is flawed and needs reform, particularly in light of the fact that it is routinely "cheated" by Republicans using a tactic that allows ostensibly independent groups to fund mudslinging campaigns, thus bypassing the spending limits set by public financing (see the video where he more-than-eloquently explains this fact, and see the useful discussion at the Huffington Post). Recognizing that this cheating was used as a weapon against Kerry (who couldn't respond effectively to the swiftboat campaign because, playing by the rules, he could not spend more money), Obama rightly concluded the system was broken and thus he was not going to let the Republicans cheat the system again. That's what he has always said. Nothing has changed.
FactChecker harps excessively on whether Obama sought "aggressively enough" to cut a deal with McCain on reigning-in the cheaters, but since McCain's people said outright that no such deal would be made, I fail to see why Obama's giving up counts as a reversal. Otherwise, the rest of the analysis at FactChecker makes the reality clear enough (see also the additional analysis there).
9. The Abominable Abortion Flip-Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama reversed course by denouncing late-term abortion.
THE TRUTH: Obama has never supported elective late-term abortion (see Voting Record). Nothing has changed. I should note that I do not support elective late-term abortion either (as I've explained here before). The attempt to spin that into an exclusively "conservative" position on abortion is already silly.
10. The Faith-Based Flip Flop
THE DISTORTION: Obama is desperately trying to veer towards the right by suddenly supporting Bush's faith-based initiatives program.
THE TRUTH: Obama has actually repudiated Bush's faith-based initiatives program as flawed and unconstitutional. He instead proposes his own version that would obey the principles of church-state separation. Even pro-separation organizations that have attacked Bush's plan agree Obama's plan would be acceptable if carried out as he describes without abuse (see AU statement and this video, where the replacement Barry Lynn claims would be better sounds almost identical to what Obama is actually proposing). Though his website has been revised since (so I don't know what it says now), I remember checking it on this very issue when he began his campaign last year, and even then he was stating his support for constitutional faith-based initiatives and his concern about unconstitutional abuses of them. So Obama has never taken any other position with regard to faith-based initiatives than the one he has recently spelled out. Nothing has changed.
Those are just ten examples of the distortions you will hear, attempting to spin the same "story" that Republicans are always trying to invent about their opponents, just to dupe you into buying what they are selling (or staying away from the polls--either result would please them). Don't fall for it. When you see the "flip flop" accusation again, check the facts.