Monday, August 11, 2008

And So the Lying Begins

Right wing pundits have begun the game of shamelessly lying about Barack Obama. The story they want you to believe (by repeating it over and over again and assuming you won't check the facts--and be honest, bow your head in shame: you weren't going to) is that Barack Obama is a "flip flopper" who is abandoning his principles to appear centrist. In actual fact Obama has always been centrist and has never espoused the radically liberal views he is supposed to be abandoning. However, unlike John McCain, whose reversals of course are so public and undeniable that we even have them on video (and any further fact checking in news archives would confirm them, and more), Obama actually hasn't done what he is accused of, hence there are no records or video to back up what the right is claiming about him.

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.


Pikemann Urge said...

Very informative and entertaining so thanks!

This reminds me of the crap that people said about Michael Moore after his Academy Award success. Even sympathizers assumed his career would suffer and that he and the Dixie Chicks were feeling the pinch. Not true of course, AFAIK.

Gee, sometimes standing up for your principles actually gets you places. Fancy that.

I'd criticize Obama's ad campaign for one thing only: it's not 100% positive good (i.e. he still mentions McCain's shortfallings when he should be vigilantly stressing the reasons to vote Democrat).

Unknown said...

Brilliant as always.


nisemono3.14 said...

This is a pretty good recap of the conversation I have had so many times since this election has begun...

The problem is that many of the people who are buying into the lies about Obama are the ones who are not active online.

Once you watch the youtube video's of McCain's contradictions, you realize who the true flip-flopper is. It is much easier to get people to buy into the lies when they aren't plugged into the web.

Great post, and one I will certainly be linking to once in a while. =)

Ben said...


What do you think of Joe Biden?


Richard Carrier said...

WAR_ON_ERROR said... What do you think of Joe Biden?

Flawed but adequate. In any case, probably a better pick to replace a fallen president than Palin. Not that I'm on the inexperience bandwagon. I don't think presidents need as much experience as people tend to claim, they just need good judgment and the humility to consult experts where they are ignorant.

Hence though Biden and I disagree on many issues, I trust his judgment more than Palin's, who has some admirable ethics but a somewhat worrying arrogance, and her religious fundamentalism is a bit scary (though not as much as some). She has, however, lied more than once (or genuinely flip-flopped, depending on how you interpret things), and that also worries me. I haven't seen anything as bad from Biden.

But much will depend on how the two handle the upcoming debate on October 2.

Ben said...

Who has the admirable ethics? Palin or Biden? Difficult grammar, sorry. Thanks for responding.

evenhanded said...

Great comments on Obama. Palin, however, scares me more than McCain. She is George Bush in a skirt with glasses and, yes, lipstick. Combine supreme, unquestioning though god wanted her to do this...with little experience and very selective ethics, and you have someone who is a disaster waiting to happen. The world, not just the USA, needs someone as President of the US capable of handling the huge problems we all face. McCain will be only a slight improvement over the failing grade Bush deserves. Palin promises to emulate Bush as she leads the country and the world towards either an environmental or military Armageddon.

Richard Carrier said...

War on Error said... Who has the admirable ethics? Palin or Biden? Difficult grammar, sorry.

Obviously (and grammatically), Palin's. Though I don't mean to imply Biden's are any worse--I just don't have specific examples to assess in his case. But I do have in hers.

She has a genuine reputation for fighting corruption (although it looks like she may have abused power for personal ends, she doesn't take graft or turn a blind eye to it), and she actually does distinguish her religious beliefs from public policy (e.g. despite what you may have heard, she is not in favor of teaching creationism in schools, even though she is a creationist, and she supports sex education and access to birth control, even though religiously she is against both), which is a rather remarkably ethical stance for a fundamentalist politician.

However, she may be abandoning these principles to groom herself for the national election, so now I don't know what to think. And she is still 100% against abortion, and that can be more dangerous than she naively realizes (e.g. if she becomes President she may pack the Supreme Court with antiabortionists, not realizing that such judges always come with a whole raft of other views that are a grave threat to this country's liberty and balance of powers).

Evenhanded: I partly agree with you. Palin is a lot like Bush II. But ironically, she is actually smarter and better qualified, and her opinions are more considered.

She actually took her governorship seriously, fighting state corruption, for example, and lobbying congress for pork to fuel her state's economy. She thus has racked up more practical political experience than Bush ever did (and indeed ever has), albeit she has zero experience with national or international politics, and that's a valid concern (for the very reason you note: she lacks the humility to acknowledge her ignorance). Likewise, Bush is always clueless, whereas Palin has actually thought about things like whether abstinence-only education is a good idea (and she adamantly concluded it wasn't, against her own religious biases, something Bush seems incapable of).

But as you note, her arrogance is dangerous. Inexperience is not inherently a problem for a President, as long as they have the judgment to know they are inexperienced (and thus know to rely on the experience of others). So combining inexperience with arrogance is the worst possible combination, and is one of the major reasons I do not trust her judgment. And yet that's the one thing a President simply must have.

Ben said...

The grammar difficultly apparently was mine then. Thanks for responding thought. That was helpful. I would like to know where you got the info on her actual on the job stances on sex education and the creationism.

Richard Carrier said...

I read widely the pre-election stories and interviews in the press online (best to see what she was saying before she was pegged for the VP), and then as much as was available after. If you do the same (there isn't much to find, so it's only about an hour of work) you'll find what I did.

Of course, since then she's stumped on a campaign of shameless lies, so I think all virtues went out the window (unless she's actually stupid enough to believe the things she says, which is scarier).

Richard Carrier said...

The election is tomorrow, but I forgot to mention a very useful resource: besides the independent, Obama also has his own FightTheSmears debunking website. Check both of them out if you're interested.