Thursday, March 11, 2004
# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Getting back to Matt and Rob, the debate started with Matt's column in TAP, which argues that the flip-flop charge is a artificial one created by the Bush administration and picked up by journalists with a compulsive interest in embarrassing the candidates. Rob's first response to Matt implies that Matt is attacking a strawman, since he debunks conservatives attacks on Kerry's record while ignore what the WaPo and TNR have to say.
Matt then got the jump on Rob by pointing out that he had already responded to the WaPo and TNR pieces in question. Undaunted, Rob responded with some original research by using Nexis-Lexis to pore over back issues of Kerry's hometown paper, The Boston Globe. Unconvinced, Matt shot back that the Globe has it in for Kerry and that its evidence is less than compelling.
So where do I stand on all of this? I don't know yet. I spent an hour and half tonight reading just some of the many articles devoted to the flip-flop question. What struck me as most surprising was Matt's statement that if you "look at Kerry's words and deeds with the pre-existing assumption that he's a man of principle and integrity" you will that find his positions to be consistent and nuanced. Yet "if you go into it assuming that Kerry is an opportunist, you can read the events to support that conclusion." While Matt's comments refer specifically to Kerry's vote to authorize the use of force against Saddam in October, they seem to reflect his general take on the issue.
What surprises me so much about Matt's approach is its implication that there is no right answer to the question of whether or not Kerry has flip-flopped on the major issues of the day. It all comes down to a question of trust. While Matt may be right, "Trust me" is a very hard message for a candidate to run on. To be sure, Bush's less-than-forthright approach to the deficit, the 9/11 commission, the WMD question and his National Guard service record make it just as hard for him to ask for the voters' trust. But as the challenger, Kerry has to show that he is better than Bush, not that he isn't worse.
Asking for the voters' trust is also an invitation for journalists to challenge a candidate's reputation. When Jimmy Carter promised that he would never tell a lie, journalists did all they could to catch him telling one. And Gary Hart...well don't ask about Gary Hart. The point is that Kerry can't lay the flip-flop issue to rest by telling either voters or journalists to trust him. In fact, doing so would only ensure that the issue stays on the table. And even now, there may be enough evidence out there to cast doubt on Matt's "pre-existing assumption that [Kerry]'s a man of principle and integrity". Consider the opening grafts of the NYT profile devoted to the flip-flop question:
When Senator John Kerry was speaking to Jewish leaders a few days ago, he said Israel's construction of a barrier between it and Palestinian territories was a legitimate act of self-defense. But in October, he told an Arab-American group that it was "provocative and counterproductive" and a "barrier to peace."Later on in the Times' profile, Kerry explains that
He had criticized the Israeli wall before the Arab-American group in October because its path was then expected to deviate widely from Israel's border into West Bank villages ? though he conceded he had not made the distinction clear at the time.Perhaps Kerry is telling the truth. But why does it always seem that Kerry has to pull this kind of rabbit out of his hat in order to reconcile apparently inconsistent views? By the same token, Kerry has recently revised his 1996 conclusion that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. This subtle distinction has enabled Kerry to argue against Bush's proposed amendent banning gay-marriage but in favor of state-level amendents that have the same effect. If one assumes that Kerry is "a man of principle and integrity", then all is well. But isn't it just a little too convenient how Kerry has revised his passionate and long-held views on gay marriage just in time to present a more moderate face during his presidential campaign? Again, there's no evidence to show that Kerry is being opportunistic. But my gut instinct says that this guy has to be watched.
Tomorrow: Bush's flip-flops and Kerry's stance on the war. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
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