Flip-Flopping

Posted at 10:55pm on Jul. 8, 2008 Disconnect

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

This Washington Post editorial applauds Barack Obama for "adjusting" his Iraq policy.

Of course, Obama himself claims that there has been no shift whatsoever in his Iraq policy, which means that he and the Washington Post need to sit down and figure out just what on Earth the story actually is. Thus far, about the only thing that we can say is that Obama has actually done nothing to alleviate the concerns of centrist and center-right voters, while at the same time appearing to go out of his way to stick a thumb in the eye of his liberal base.

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Posted at 10:05pm on Jul. 6, 2008 The Netroots Are Angry

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

So sayeth this story. Key passage:

Nowhere is criticism of the presumptive Democratic nominee more intense than on the Internet, the cyberspace world where the Obama campaign has received hundreds of millions of dollars from more than 1.7 million donors and whose bloggers have been among his biggest fans.

"There is a line between 'moving to the center' and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized. And, of late, he's been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician," said Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, the top site of the liberal netroots community.

"Not that I ever bought it, but Obama is now clearly not looking much different than every other Democratic politician who has ever turned his or her back on the base in order to prove centrist bona fides," he said.

Once again, there is nothing "centrist" about Obama, a fact that is especially obvious when one takes the time to examine the statements he made during the primary and caucus season and when one takes a look at his voting record. Centrists should not be taken in by these supposed "moves to the center." But if the netroots is displeased by the fact that it is the latest group to have been thrown under the bus by the Obama campaign, well, I can't say that I blame them.

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Posted at 6:31pm on Jul. 5, 2008 The Bloom Is Off The Rose

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

So reports Jonathan Last in considering the state of the Obama campaign:

In the wake of last week's Supreme Court ruling overturning Washington's handgun ban, for instance, the Obama campaign disavowed a 2007 statement it had made about the constitutionality of gun laws as "inartful."

After claiming in May that he would debate John McCain "anytime, any place," Obama declined to participate in a series of 10 town hall-style meetings, which the McCain campaign proposed.

Early in the month, it became clear that the head of Obama's VP search committee, Jim Johnson, was compromised by his ties to the subprime lender Countrywide. Obama called the story "overblown and irrelevant." Two days later Johnson was cashiered.

Of course that's all just campaign mechanics. But Obama has been reversing himself on policy, too.

In October, the Obama campaign promised that the senator would support a filibuster of any FISA bill that would grant retroactive immunity for telecom companies who helped the government with wiretapping. Last week, Obama announced that he would not filibuster the new FISA bill (which contains wiretapping immunity), and that instead he planned to vote for it.

At a dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, Obama promised that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." Later, an Obama adviser clarified that Obama did not mean that Jerusalem should be literally "not divided."

Here's the campaign's confusing explanation: "So [Obama] used a word to represent what he did not want to see again, and then realized afterwards that that word is a code word in the Middle East." It remains unclear what situation Obama sees as preferable for Israel's capital.

There is a lot more in the article. Of course, Last writes for the Weekly Standard so there will be more than a few people who dismiss his critiques as being ideologically driven. But the flip-flops are being noted in ideologically friendly fora as well--like this one--and they threaten to undermine Obama's status as a new kind of politician selling a new kind of politics. It should be noted, of course, that Obama's attempts to shift to the center do exceedingly little to assuage the concerns of centrists and right-of-center voters who are aware of Obama's voting record and his rhetoric during the primary and caucus season--both of which are at variance with his new and conveniently found "centrism." Meanwhile, efforts to shift to the center are increasingly outraging and infuriating Obama's base, a fact that is especially obvious in the reaction of Obama's base to his decision to support FISA reforms. The Obama campaign is paying lip service at best to centrists, moderates and right-of-center voters and alienating its own base; a neat trick and a wholly unexpected one given that until recently, the campaign was operating on all cylinders and carrying out its duties in competent fashion.

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Posted at 12:04am on Jul. 4, 2008 Walking Back The Cat

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Of all of the major Presidential candidates, Barack Obama has been the one who most consistently opposed the war and most consistently garnered the approval of antiwar voters with his promise to end American involvement in Iraq in 16 months after his inauguration, should he win the Presidency. Indeed, several times in debates and on the campaign trail, Obama was asked whether he would reconsider his Iraq policies in the event that General Petraeus or other members of the military asked him to in light of what the conditions on the ground might be. And each time, Obama refused.

However, when it comes to his Iraq policy, Obama may now be softening:

Senator Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot sustain a long-term military presence in Iraq, but added that he would be open to "refine my policies" about a timeline for withdrawing troops after meeting with American military commanders during a trip to Iraq later this month.

Mr. Obama, whose popularity in the Democratic primary was built upon a sharp opposition to the war and an often-touted 16-month gradual timetable for removing combat troops, dismissed suggestions that he was changing positions in the wake of reductions in violence in Iraq and a general election fight with Senator John McCain.

"I've always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed," he said. "And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies."

Of course, the practical translation of the above is "get ready for the antiwar movement to be thrown under the bus." Just as Obama has cut his ties with longstanding political supporters--thus embittering some of them and just as Obama has decided to support FISA reform--thus embittering the netroots, Obama has now pledged to "refine" his Iraq strategy after having initially pledged not to.

Look, I understand that there are practicalities involved in politics. And Barack Obama now appears to be embracing those practicalities. That's fine and good as it goes but with each passing day, it becomes clearer and clearer that while Barack Obama is an eloquent man with a winning campaign trail style, there is nothing special or extraordinary about his brand of politics.

He's just another Democratic party politician. And because Obama has been selling his politics as some extraordinary new batch of leadership and policies, the more people realize that Obama is just another Democratic party politician, the more pronounced their sense of disillusionment with him is likely to be.

Oh, and see this, this and this. The Obama campaign had to call a press conference to try to kill any talk that he is changing his position, but you can tell that the press is not buying it and that they are calling him on a whole host of inconsistencies between his prior position and his current one. He also accuses the McCain campaign of "prim[ing] the pump" to somehow mislead the public on Obama's position, which is bizarre and unsupported. It is difficult to see how Obama can "refine policies" concerning a troop withdrawal without potentially refining the 16 month timetable that he set for himself so his claims that he would leave the timetable untouched even though he might "refine policies" makes no sense and can't even plausibly be offered up as promises. I realize there is a need to spin this as not being a big deal, but it just isn't going to wash, as this story indicates.

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Posted at 11:55pm on Jul. 2, 2008 The Fabulous FISA Flip-Flop

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Via Patterico, we see that Glenn Greenwald is really going after Obama with a vengeance over his decision to support FISA reform. I'll remain silent over all other matters . . . except to say that I agree with Patterico that now would be a very good time for a fresh batch of popcorn.

Posted at 11:52pm on Jul. 2, 2008 Flip-Flopping On Trade--The Fun Continues

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Here's Barack Obama's campaign today:

As presumptive Republican nominee McCain headed to Latin America today after an event in Indianapolis, the Obama camp hosted a conference call to criticize him for what it called failed trade policies.

On the call, Indiana House Majority Leader Russ Stilwell and former UAW Vice President Terry Thurman said McCain was committed to unfair trade policies that have hurt Indiana workers and resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in the state.

"Just recently, Sen. McCain traveled to Canada to talk about his support for NAFTA and today, after he finishes his speech here in Indiana, he's hopping on a plane and going to Colombia and Mexico to talk about how much our trade agreements are going to help those countries rather than talking about what we can do to help this country," Thurman said. "I find it no surprise that he's gonna go to Mexico to talk (sic) how great NAFTA is because he is certainly not gonna find much support for it in the Hoosier State."

And here was Barack Obama just a little over a week ago:

The general campaign is on, independent voters are up for grabs, and Barack Obama is toning down his populist rhetoric - at least when it comes to free trade.

In an interview with Fortune to be featured in the magazine's upcoming issue, the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA "devastating" and "a big mistake," despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he answered.

Someone forgot to remind the Obama campaign that they should refrain from "overheated and amplified" rhetoric. They certainly engaged in such rhetoric today. By the way, if you want to see how trade has helped Indiana--and why Indianans would be in favor of free trade absent efforts to obscure the issue via demagoguery--you need only read this.

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Posted at 3:13pm on Jun. 19, 2008 Backtracking All Around

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Given that he changed his mind about his earlier decision to take public financing for the general election cycle, it should come as no surprise whatsoever to find that Barack Obama is now conducting a whiplash-inducing policy change concerning the issue of trade:

The general campaign is on, independent voters are up for grabs, and Barack Obama is toning down his populist rhetoric - at least when it comes to free trade.

In an interview with Fortune to be featured in the magazine's upcoming issue, the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA "devastating" and "a big mistake," despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he answered.

Just out of curiosity, how responsible is policymaking in the Obama campaign when it is vulnerable to being altered 180 degrees simply because "during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified"? We all have our moments when we say things that we regret, but the Obama campaign engaged in a deliberate, patterned, systematic and repeated effort to augment protectionist sentiments and to trash free trade agreements like NAFTA and the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Now, we are being told that all of this was just "overheated and amplified" rhetoric and that Obama committed a forensic boo-boo?

Give me a break. Go through the entire story and see just how much Obama has backtracked on the issue of trade and just how purposefully protectionist he sounded during the primary campaign season. The only thing we have to rely on when it comes to trade issues is Barack Obama's inconstancy. And the causes of prosperity and economic development both in this country and around the world deserve better than that from the next American President.

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Posted at 1:47am on May 30, 2008 The Tunes, They Are A'Changin'

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

I think that this speaks for itself:

"There is no reason why we would necessarily meet with [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad before we know that he is actually in power," Mr. Obama told reporters. "He is not the most powerful person in Iran."

Last week, Mr. Obama offered a similarly nuanced explanation about meeting with President Raúl Castro of Cuba, saying he would do so only "at a time and place of my choosing."

The caveats belie the simple answer Mr. Obama gave during a debate last summer, when the issue was first raised in a major public forum. Without hesitation or qualification, Mr. Obama said he would hold direct talks with America's enemies, drawing strong and immediate criticism from his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

"Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?" asked Stephen Sixta, a video producer who submitted the question for the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate.

Mr. Obama, the first candidate to respond, answered, "I would."

Several aides immediately thought it was a mistake and sought to dial back his answer. But on a conference call the morning after the debate, Mr. Obama told his advisers that he had meant what he said and thought the answer crystallized how he differed from his rivals.

"I think that it is an example of how stunted our foreign policy debates have become over the last eight years that this is an issue that political opponents try to seize on," Mr. Obama said in an interview on Wednesday. "It is actually a pretty conventional view of how diplomacy should work traditionally that has fallen into disrepute in Republican circles and in Washington."

Even after Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton called his position naïve, Mr. Obama refused to shy away from it, at times speaking explicitly in terms of a potential meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

And now, of course, he's backing away from it. That's the New Tone for you. The utter and complete shift in positioning--without anything dramatic having occurred to cause it save the fact that Obama is now realizing that his earlier stance doesn't play well before a general election crowd--should have the mainstream media all over him in the most critical fashion.

At least, if there is such a thing as "critical inquiry" these days.

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Posted at 3:02pm on Dec. 22, 2007 Before And After

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Before:

As Congressional Democrats sought to reconcile their differences and send an Iraq spending bill to the White House, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said Thursday that "this war is lost," a stark assessment that Republicans argued would demoralize American troops fighting in Iraq.

[. . .]

"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and -- you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows -- that this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq," Mr. Reid said.

After (quoting Reid):

. . . The president said, "Let's send some more troops over there, and that will give the Iraqis the time to take care of themselves." We sent other troops over there, and there are a lot of reasons the surge certainly hasn't hurt. It's helped. I recognize that.

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Posted at 3:23am on Nov. 22, 2007 I Notice A Trend

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

More people are willing to call Paul Krugman on his double-talk. This is a good thing for the viability of Social Security, for policy in general and above all, for political discourse in America. Maybe fewer pundits will try to get away with the kind of flim-flam Krugman has sought to peddle if more Ruth Marcuses are willing to criticize them for it.

Posted at 3:35am on Nov. 17, 2007 "Krugman v. Krugman" (There's More!)

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

The internal debate continues. I predict that the next time a Democrat is elected President, Krugman will rediscover that Social Security is indeed in crisis. And then he will ignore all of the people who point out his argumentative contortions on the issue--just as he is ignoring them now.

You see, this is somehow supposed to be responsible punditry. And perhaps in another universe, it is.

Here, however, it is something quite different.

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Posted at 1:45am on Nov. 16, 2007 "Krugman v. Krugman"

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

This point can't be emphasized enough.

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