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July 08, 2008

Obama's Flip-Flops =/= Kerry's

The anti-Obama ad that DrewM. posted is effective, but I think the message needs to be sharpened.

John Kerry flip-flopped to the left during the primaries to outflank the hard-left Dean on Iraq. The flip-flop secured him the nomination, but hurt him in the general election. He was left with a recently-adopted left position he could not easily abandon after having already flip-flopped to it months earlier.

The flip-flop hurt him two ways: He was shown to be a panderer and willing to adopt any position to advance his political interests, and he was adopting positions disfavored by the middlish independent voters vital to winning the presidency.

Obama's flip-flop is the other way. He began by strongly pandering to the left -- a la Howard Dean. Hillary was in John Kerry's position during the primaries -- she had to move further and further left to appeal to the harder-left voters of the Democratic primaries (and especially the very hard left activist types that bother showing up for eight hour caucuses). She failed, of course. No matter how far to the left she moved, Obama was always two steps further to the left.

But now it's general campaign season, and Obama is flip-flopping, not to the left as Kerry did, but to the center.

So while he will be damaged by such principle-free mercenary opportunism, he does not have to fear that, like Kerry, he had made himself less electable among independents and those in the squishy middle. Indeed, Obama's flip-flops make him more palatable to the center.

I'm not sure how McCain and the RNC should sharpen their ads to hurt Obama more, but I do think they need to do it. As it stands, a centrist swing voter may acknowledge that Obama is just another politician willing to adopt whatever position will appeal to the center swing voters... but, from their vantage point, that's a good thing. People don't like pandering, but they don't mind it so much when they themselves are being pandered to.

It needs to be said, either explicitly or strongly impliedly, that Obama's current positions are dishonest and not his true positions, that he will flip-flop-flip right back to his natural home on the far left the moment he's elected President. It's not enough to point out Obama's flip-flops, given that his current positions are actually vote-winners as far as the independent voters are concerned. One has to make the case that his positions should win no independent votes, because they're simply expedient, convenient lies.

I'm not a professional politico of course, and perhaps McCain and the RNC have focus-grouped all that and determined that their current ads make the case in the most effective way possible. Perhaps going further and explicitly stating that Obama is a liar who will say anything to get elected -- and then proceed to enact his true-believer hard-left agenda -- is a bridge too far and alienates more voters than it convinces.

But I can't help but think that McCain's current ad on Obama's flip-flopping is actually helpful to Obama, reassuring middle-third voters that, while Obama has taken a lot of far-left positions to fool the pot-addled dupes of the Democratic left fringe, he's actually quite a sensible, pragmatic, cautious and even conservatively-inclined fellow. Sure, he lied to those fools and freaks. But now we see what he really thinks, and what he really thinks is quite a bit more palatable than what he previously claimed to have thought.

Obama is just another politician is actually a campaign slogan on Obama's behalf when contrasted with the other possible meme that could define him, Obama is a hard-left radical willing to baldly lie to achieve power and then enact his Age of Aquarius program.

Obviously Obama is lying to someone. He either lied previously to the lefty activists that dominate the Democratic primary, or he's lying to the centrist voters he hopes to court now.

If Obama is permitted to "re-calibrate" and redefine all his positions so that centrist voters think that he's now telling the truth, that's a net-positive for Obama. He's not a dangerous lefty lunatic is a more potent and positive message than He's a flip-flopper is a negative one.

And McCain and the RNC have to fight that conclusion, not simply note that he's taken contrary positions at the most politically-expedient moments.

Whether it's gun rights, or late-term abortions, or Iraq, or the flag-lapel pin, Obama's current positions are more attractive than his prior ones. It does the Republicans little good to simply advertise Obama's current crop of positions of strong centrist appeal.

Obama's doing the same thing. He's also advertising these new, more appealing positions. (If not advertising them via paid media, he's certainly advertising them with free media speeches and press opportunities.)

Why help Obama's media campaign by spending precious political dollars reinforcing the message Obama's got $350 million to promote himself?

Possible Explanation? The Republicans may have determined, by focus-groups and polls, that Obama is surrounded by such an aura of (false) virtue that direct, explicit attacks on his basic goodness and near-divinity will not sell. At least not yet. Before stronger attacks may be made against him (and have any hope of persuading the public), perhaps they have determined that the teflon sheen of righteousness must be scratched off him. Before the tough attacks come out, he must first be reduced from Savior to politician.

And only then, when he stands in the public imagination as what he actually is -- just another politician -- can the next step be taken, casting him as politician who is lying and who will pursue a hidden agenda that the majority of the public does not favor.

So perhaps these ads are weak and tentative because weak and tentative is all that is possible at the moment.

That may be the case. But at some point -- even if the polls are still showing Obama's Magic Negro Halo mostly intact and a-glow -- McCain and the GOP are going to have to hit the switch and accuse him of a dishonest and covert radicalism.

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posted by Ace at 05:54 PM

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