Why Kerry's flip-flops matter.

A mostly political Weblog.
March 8 2004 4:59 AM

Unified Kerry Theory II

Why his waffles aren't chopped liver!

Let Me Be Your Gide: TNR's Noam Scheiber says I didn't bury the lede but rather missed it entirely in that Saturday NYT Kerry flip-flop story,the one in which Kerry's defenders did much more damage than his attackers. Scheiber draws attention to the final Times paragraphs:

Mr. Winer, the former aide, who worked with Mr. Kerry on terrorism and many other issues, described Mr. Kerry's complexity as right for the times.

"Between the moral clarity, black and white, good and evil of George Bush that distorts and gets reality wrong," he said, "and someone who quotes a French philosopher, André Gide, saying, `Don't try to understand me too much,' I'd let Americans decide which in the end is closer to what they need in a president, in a complex world where if you get it really wrong there are enormous consequences."

Scheiber says:

Isn't that basically Kerry in a nutshell? He'll never be too wrong--and, oh yeah, he can quote André Gide! They should put this on a bumper sticker ...

Note also the (unjustified) intellectual vanity of the man. a) He's so complex, we shouldn't really try to understand him! b) He's actually proud of that deer poem! ... 7:37 P.M.

He Flipped. He Flopped: It's the Battle to Define Kerry's Flip-flopping! WaPo's Laura Blumenfeld puts the best face on it, the NYT offers a tour de spin. But WaPo's Marjorie Williams ("Win One for the Flipper")  isn't having any of it. There are about three "money grafs" in Williams' damning piece. Here are two of them crunched together:

... I've labored to turn my eyes from his career-long opportunism, the knowledge that Bay State political junkies trade their favorite Kerry flip-flops like baseball cards. Bush is already having fun with Kerry's zigzags of the past three years alone: Kerry voted for so many of Bush's major initiatives that in order to disown them now he can only argue that they were wrongly or dishonestly "implemented." This amounts to a confession that his opponent made a chump of him for the past three years. ... It's been especially difficult, but I work to achieve a kind of amnesia about Kerry's incoherent and changing explanation of his position -- no, his positions -- concerning the crucial issue of Bush's war in Iraq.

Okay, so he's kicked away both a grand political opportunity and -- much more importantly -- any sense of confidence that he would lead the war on terrorism more wisely than Bush. But surely it's a coincidence that all of his war-related votes, going back to his vote against Bush pere's 1991 resolution for the Persian Gulf War, found him on the side of short-term political expedience?

Williams makes a key point I've been failing to articulate--that Kerry's positioning is often so transparently and short-sightedly self-interested that it's actually not in his long term self-interest. (Wouldn't he like to have that 1991 Gulf War vote back today?)

Some of the Kerry camp's rationalizations actually go a long way toward explaining the seemingly impulsive opportunism that produces such embarrassing flips. Former Kerry aide Jonathan Winer in the NYT:

There's indoor John and outdoor John ... Indoor John is thoughtful, works all this through, is nuanced, and so deeply into the process that you can get impatient," Mr. Winer said. "Outdoor John is a man of action. There'd be a point where, Boom! and go. Once it happened, the dialogue was over, and you wouldn't always know which way he was going to go."