The flip-flops of George W. Bush.

Politics and policy.
Sept. 23 2003 11:10 AM

The Flip-Flops of George W. Bush

What he said then. What he says now. What happened.

George W. Bush

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates' biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, and worst moments. This series assesses the candidates' purported flip-flops. Here are two switches commonly attributed to George W. Bush—and the context his critics leave out.  

Flip: On March 6, 2003, Bush said he would demand a U.N. Security Council vote on whether to sanction military action against Iraq: "No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council."

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Flop: On March 17, 2003, with a possible resolution waiting in the wings, Bush announced he would not call for a vote, saying, "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours."

Context: France and other anti-war nations made it clear that they would vote against any resolution. Bush noted this on March 16 when he observed that France and Russia "said they are going to veto anything that held Saddam to account. So cards have been played." Bush and his coalition allies decided that the diplomatic road through the United Nations would be a dead end and that the only way to remove Saddam Hussein from power was through military intervention.

Flip: In a Business Week interview published on May 29, 2000, Bush said, "I have a strong commitment to free trade."

Flop: In March 2002, Bush introduced a complicated set of tariffs on several categories of imported steel, ranging from 8 percent to 30 percent, to protect the struggling U.S. steel industry.

Context: Bush was trying to protect an industry that had lost 650,000 jobs in the previous two decades from economic collapse. He was also trying to appeal to voters in steel-heavy states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, which were pivotal in the coming congressional elections. The tariff was designed to help the steel industry while minimizing the effect on car makers.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Ben Jacobs is a Slate intern.