Election Politics & Rhetoric

I was delighted, after the ridiculous, stupid, and sustained Republican duckspeak about “flip-flops,” to hear George W. Bush pronounce the so-called “war on terror” to be unwinnable, and to then declare the very next day that the United States would win that so-called war. I’ve heard all sorts of Republican pundits trying to spin what the President said, to no avail. It’s a huge, idiotic, and disingenuous reversal, and anyone who tries to explain it is showing her or his absolute contempt for the intelligence of the American public. But of course, that’s what Karl Rove’s crew excels at: the rhetoric of assertion that contends, If you say it forcefully enough or often enough, it’ll be true.

So here’s some counterspin for the conservatives stupid enough or duplicitous enough to perpetuate the “flip-flop” nonsense:

  • According to the New York Times in its reporting on possible investigations of intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction, “The White House immediately turned aside the calls from [David] Kay and many Democrats for an immediate outside investigation, seeking to head off any new wide-ranging election-year inquiry that might go beyond reports already being assembled by congressional committees and the Central Intelligence Agency.” One week later, Bush declared that he was creating an “independent commission, chaired by Governor and former Senator Chuck Robb, Judge Laurence Silberman, to look at American intelligence capabilities, especially our intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.”
  • In March of 2002, Bush opposed creating the Department of Homeland security, stating through Ari Fleischer that creating the department “doesn’t solve anything.” In June of 2002, Bush asked Congress “to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.”
  • In May of 2002, the President was publicly vocal in his strong opposition to an independent 9/11 commission. In September of 2002, he declared his support for an independent 9/11 commission.
  • In September 2002, Bush said, “You can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” In September 2003, Bush said, “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11.”
  • In February 2004, the Bush administration said it would not need additional funding for Iraq. In May 2004, Bush asked “that Congress establish a $25 billion contingency reserve fund for the coming fiscal year to meet all commitments to our troops.”
  • On March 9, 2004, the Bush administration said that Condoleeza Rice would not testify, as “a matter of principle.” On March 30, Bush said, “Today I have informed the Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States that my National Security Advisor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will provide public testimony.”

There are, as well, the less-publicized flip-flops. Here are a few:

  • In the 2000 campaign, George Will asked Bush directly whether he would veto the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. Bush responded, “Yes, I would.” Upon signing McCain-Feingold, Bush stated that “this bill improves the current system of financing for Federal campaigns, and therefore I have signed it into law.”
  • On Septemer 17, 2001, Bush said of Osama Bin Laden, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'” In March 2002, Bush said of Bin Laden, “I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him. I truly am not that concerned about him.”
  • In January 2004, Bush invited Ahmed Chalabi to his State of the Union Address, and in 2003, Bush met with Chalabi during his Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. In May 2004, U.S. soldiers were ordered to raid Chalabi’s house.
  • In January 2000, Bush said that “the president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price” of oil. In early 2004, according to the Miami Herald, the president refused to “personally lobby oil cartel leaders to change their minds.”
  • In 2001, Bush said, “We’re going to keep the promise of Social Security and keep the government from raiding the Social Security surplus.” His budget, of course, puts $1.4 trillion dollars of Social Security funds into paying for other programs for the next eight years.
  • In 2000, according to documents from his campaign, Bush supported “establish[ing] mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.” In 2003, Bush wrote that he did not think “that the government should impose on power plants mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide, which is not a ‘pollutant’ under the Clean Air Act.”
  • Bush initially declared himself as favoring free and unfettered trade. In March 2002, Bush imposed massive tariffs of up to 30% on imported steel. Then, in December 2003, he lifted the tariffs, fearing international sanctions.
  • In 1995, as Governor, Bush vetoed a patients’ bill of rights piece of legislation, consistently opposing any patient’s right to sue in denial-of-coverage situations. In October 2000, Bush said, “We’re one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage. . . It’s time for our nation to come together and do what’s right for the people. And I think this is right for the people. You know, I support a national patients’ bill of rights, Mr. Vice President. And I want all people covered. I don’t want the law to supersede good law like we’ve got in Texas.” In March 2004, the Presiden’ts Assistant Solicitor General argued against allowing two Texans to sue their providers for wrongful denial of coverage, and attacked the reasoning behind the Texas law that would allow such a suit.
  • Discussing gay marriage on Larry King Live in 2000, Bush declared it a states’ rights issue, saying that as far as gay marriage goes, “The states can do what they want to do.” In 2004, Bush said, “Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife.”

And, of course, there are many others, that you can find — like I found details for the ones above — by typing “Bush flip flops” into Google: first he’s against United States involvement in negotiating in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then he wants Palestinian state as a part of a road map to peace; first the United States can’t negotiate with a “rogue state” like North Korea, and then negotiation is necessary; first the “Mission Accomplished” banner was put up by sailors, and then Bush admits it’s his own advance team that did it; and many more besides.

But what’s inadequately addressed, I think, is that there are two types of “flip-flop”: one type is the untruth followed by its correction, or by misdirection, or by rhetorical stonewalling. Consider:

  • In an interview in Poland in May 2003, Bush explicitly stated, “We found the weapons of mass destruction,” and continued, “For those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” In February 2004, Bush stated that the weapons of mass destruction were still curiously absent: “David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons. And when David Kay goes in and says we haven’t found stockpiles yet, and there’s theories as to where the weapons went. They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we’ll find out.”

I’d be interested to hear any examples of this second type from Kerry, because I don’t think they exist.

But the other type, and what conservatives are actually gabbling about, is the shift in perception on policy. As some of the above examples make clear, it’s ridiculous to criticize someone for these shifts of perception. It’s called learning and reconsidering, and it’s what people do. Why did the United States flip-flop on slavery and civil rights issues? Should we have stayed the course and been steadfast? Why did the colonies flip-flop and decide that being taxed by England wasn’t in their best interests? While the Bush administration’s outright untruths are absolutely vile and despicable, the whole flip-flop thing is a canard — although crying “flip-flop” certainly does a fine job of displaying the complete hypocrisy and moral dishonesty of those who do so.

I find such hypocrisy unsurprising, since this week’s convention is offering a puppet show of moderate and centrist folks — Zell Miller, Schwarzenegger, Giuliani, McCain, et cetera — designed to obscure the most radically conservative platform written in recent years: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, because you’re intended to feel that all those nice people up there on stage are so delightfully moderate, never mind the planks in the platform written to please the reactionary rank-and-file.

But it’d be nice if we actually heard something about issues once in a while, rather than the crowing about 9/11 and Iraq, the party’s wrapping itself in the flag while standing atop the rubble and carnage and mangled bodies of the 9/11 victims to demand that Americans Vote For Bush. It’d be nice to actually hear something of substance.

Like, say, why the wealthiest people in America should pay 36% of their marginal income in federal income tax instead of the 39.5% previously in the tax code. Or like why Bush enacted tax cuts for the wealthy, telling them that while “Some people in America call you the elite. I call you my base,” when one out of every eight Americans is living below the poverty line.

One out of eight. Is this acceptable to us? Do we think it’s OK? Do we say to ourselves, “Well, the problem poverty is unavoidable in contemporary society”?

No: it’s not. Look at the U.S. government’s figures on how many people live in poverty in Norway.

But in the U.S., one out of eight is thirty-five million people. For those who have been watching the news from Iraq after the, uh, cessation of major combat activities (“Mission Accomplished!”), while we approach the 1000th American soldier killed in Iraq, Americans living in poverty outnumber the entire population of Iraq by 10 million people. Americans living in poverty outnumber the entire population of Afghanistan by 6 million people. Americans living in poverty outnumber the entire population of North Korea by 13 million people.

For those of us who enjoyed the recent Olympics, Americans living in poverty outnumber the entire population of Greece by more than 300 percent. Americans living in poverty outnumber the entire population of Canada. Of Australia.

And one in eight is considerably higher than the proportion of 9/11 hijackers who came from Iraq. Zero out of nineteen, if you’re keeping score.

Which, clearly, many Americans aren’t.

(I’m grateful to Wampum, The Boston Globe, The DNC, DailyKos, Independents for Kerry, and the Center for American Progress for much of the above material.)

Election Politics & Rhetoric

5 thoughts on “Election Politics & Rhetoric

  • September 2, 2004 at 12:30 am

    They were chanting “flip flops” tonight at one point.

  • September 3, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Wonderful post, Mike. The Kerry folks should be doing this good a job at hammering this stuff home every time the Bushies call him a flip-flopper.

  • September 3, 2004 at 7:47 pm

    Great documentation, Mike. I’ll forward it on to some of my lists.

    The Bushies have mastered the art of the Big Lie, the technique that only the evil Commies were supposed to use. The rule is that when your first lie is challenged, you tell a bigger one. Bush’s speech last night worked in that vein. He claimed failures as successes and then made proposals that he will never follow up on. They keep doing this because it still works with a lot of people.

    We somehow have to produce 51% of voters who are Bushie-literate.

  • September 4, 2004 at 10:24 am

    I gotta say, the moment in Fahrenheit 9/11 that really made me boil with fury at Bush and his ilk was that footage of him addressing his “base” of rich people. The subtext was so obviously “…and I don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone who isn’t rich.” I can feel my blood pressure skyrocketing just thinking about it.

    I think Mark Crispin Miller is right: the man’s a sociopath.

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