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Remind Me of Who the Flip-Flopper Is

The Associated Press beat me to writing about something that has been on my mind of late -- and did a far more comprehensive job than I would have:

Republican audiences chant "flip-flopper" when Kerry is mentioned, some political novelty stores are carrying flip-flop sandals bearing Kerry's picture, and the theme is reinforced by late-night comedians...

If he is a flip-flopper, Kerry has company.

In 2000, Bush argued against new military entanglements and nation building. He's done both in Iraq.

He opposed a Homeland Security Department, then embraced it.

He opposed creation of an independent Sept. 11 commission, then supported it. He first refused to speak to its members, then agreed only if Vice President Dick Cheney came with him.

Bush argued for free trade, then imposed three-year tariffs on steel imports in 2002, only to withdraw them after 21 months.

Last month, he said he doubted the war on terror could be won, then reversed himself to say it could and would.

A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." But he told reporters six months later, "I truly am not that concerned about him." He did not mention bin Laden in his hour-long convention acceptance speech.

"I'm a war president," Bush told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Feb. 8. But in a July 20 speech in Iowa, he said: "Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president."

Bush keeps revising his Iraq war rationale: The need to seize Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction until none were found; liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator; fighting terrorists in Iraq not at home; spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it's a safer America and a safer world.

What I can't understand is why people don't see this. Bush is seen as strong and decisive, when in fact he changes his position on major issues with great regularity.

In truth, Bush's strategy is quite clever: when forced to bow to pressure and change a position -- as with the 9/11 commission or the Department of Homeland Security -- claim that your new position has always been your position. Bush's loyal advisor Karen Hughes did this quite blatantly not too long ago, as I blogged at the time. From the transcript of Tim Russert's interview of her on Meet the Press in April of this year:

MR. RUSSERT: Many observers will point to the fact that the president and vice president resisted or discouraged the creation of the commission. They had to be threatened with subpoena in order to provide documents and Dr. Condoleezza Rice for weeks refused to testify in public under oath. Why such resistance and reluctance to cooperate fully with the commission?

MS. HUGHES: Well, Tim, I'm not sure that I characterize it that way, because what I've heard the president say is he wants all the facts to come out, he wants the commission to be able to report fully to the American people. After all, he and his national security team are responsible for preventing another attack. But I've been in the White House and I've seen the competing pressures there. There are a lot of factors at work when you're the president of the United States...

MR. RUSSERT: But now in hindsight the president believes the commission's a good idea.

MS. HUGHES: Well, I think, Tim, I don't know if the president ever opposed the creation of the commission. What he did was try to balance and look at all those different things...

MR. RUSSERT: But the history is clear. Here's the headlines. "The 9-11 Commission could subpoena Oval Office files because the White House was resisting. Bush opposes independent commission to investigate September 11th." Vice President Cheney, on this program said, "I did actively discourage the notion, for example, of a national commission." There had been opposition; there's no doubt about it.

MS. HUGHES: There were concerns about what impact it might have on our ongoing foremost priority, which again, is to protect the American people from attack. But that said, Tim, once the commission has been created, I mean, unprecedented cooperation...

Our intention and the president's direction all along was that he wanted to cooperate and to make sure that the commission had all the information it needed to do its important work.

One thing is for sure: Bush's political team can spin with the best of them. Bill Clinton might have the greatest political skills of any leader of our time, but Bush may well have the most formidable political team of our time. Think about it: their candidate is: the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs on his tenure; the president who was in office at the time of the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history; the president who took us to war against Iraq based on false evidence, at a cost of over $132 billion (and counting) and the lives of over 1,000 American soldiers (and counting)... and yet he is slightly ahead in the polls. It's a stunning achievement, really.


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