Thursday, April 10, 2008

A politician, not a messiah

The flip flop is a staple of politics as usual. Here’s a fresh example, starring Barack Obama:

A mere five months ago, in Iowa, Obama didn’t like it when outside “special interest” groups sided with his rivals, pumped their own money into the campaign, and ran independent ads against him. Most of those groups were actually affiliated with organized labor – and three quarters of the money came from labor - but he didn’t cut them any slack.

Obama assailed these independent groups as symptoms of "the same tired old political textbook that so many Americans just don’t trust anymore." He denounced their independent efforts, and said that he intended to run "a new kind of campaign." Meanwhile, his campaign manager, David Plouffe, cited several prominent unions for their pro-Clinton activities, and complained about how "shadowy" organizations were unleashing a "flood of Washington money" in an "underhanded" attempt to influence the caucuses.

In particular, Plouffe assailed AFSCME, referring to the public employes’ union as "Hillary Clinton’s friends in Washington" - that’s the kind of attack that Republicans typically launch, tagging labor as just another Beltway special interest – but AFSCME was hardly alone. The Obama campaign put out a December memo railing against "huge, unregulated contributions by special interests" and singled out, among others, the Service Employes International Union, which had affiliates working on behalf of John Edwards.

One liberal commentator, Ari Melber, wrote at the time: "Obama’s concerns sound more like sour grapes – AFSCME and SEIU would probably face little criticism if they were spending money on him."

He got that right. Fast forward to the Pennsylvania primary, present day...and the news that SEIU and an affiliated health-care local union are pouring upwards of $1 million into an independent pro-Obama effort that parallels the official Obama operation. Nothing illegal about that, then or now. The issue here is the difference between Obama’s stance, then and now.

Of the current outside effort by this "shadowy" "special interest," the candidate has said exactly zilch, uttering nary a whisper of protest. (Nor did he protest when SEIU spent $5 million on his behalf in several other primaries that preceded Pennsylvania.) Apparently he was against "the same tired old political textbook" before he was for it.

At times like these, I am tempted to send this message to his ardent devotees: Let us all remember, this guy does not walk on water. He’s a politician who is trying to win, and he will flip where he once flopped if that’s what it takes.

And why shouldn’t he? He pays no real penalty for expunging his December convictions. The issue of "independent campaign expenditures" and "special interest campaign influence" is of burning importance to roughly one percent of the general public, and that’s only if you include the good-government reformers and the editorial writers. Few others care about this stuff. And all Democratic politicians, including Obama, are well aware that, during the autumn campaign, labor’s independent expenditures will be crucial to the party’s White House prospects.


Today, President Bush said a few upbeat words about Iraq, the surge, and the latest Petraeus-Crocker road show. I know, your pulse is quickening already. Actually he signaled his sentiments (the same as his old sentiments) in advance late yesterday, by granting an exclusive interview with the like-minded neoconservative William Kristol (who, naturally, reports to us this morning that Bush is "impressive").

Here's what Bush told Kristol. Stop me if you've heard this before: "There is progress...We are better off now than we were prior to the surge. And we're headed toward a day when the Iraqis are going to be able to manage their own affairs from a security perspective. But we're not there yet."

Then today he said that "it's clear we're on the right track," and that "progress" was being made.

But rest assured that, regardless of whatever Bush says now, it can’t possibly compete with what he articulated five years ago, almost to the day, in a message to the Iraqi people. Here it is, verbatim from the White House transcript of April 13, 2003:

"You’re free. And freedom is beautiful. And, you know, it’ll take time to restore chaos and order – order out of chaos."