Sunday, January 27, 2008

There's Flipping - and There's Flopping

This entire campaign has seen plenty of shifting views and "flip-flops." Romney's own abortion stance has shifted from a support of Roe v. Wade to a more pro-life position. He freely admits to having "evolved" his views, although his personal views of abortion have likely not changed. As a Latter-day Saint the sanctity of life is paramount, but it's a personal thing. The Church makes no official political statement on this issue other than to urge support for that sanctity. Romney, as a political creature, has had to walk that tightrope between what he knows to be true, and what the people he would represent want to be true. It's not an easy path, and there will be that inevitable moment when you need to define yourself in one camp or another. On an issue like abortion, there's little room (or forgiveness) for waffling. Romney has made his statements, and it now remains to be seen whether he will stay true to them. If not, political retribution will be swift.

Contrasting with this "definition" of Romney is McCain's own flip-flop on "benchmarks" for withdrawal from Iraq. No one, not even the more staunch supporters of the Iraq war and larger fight against terrorism, want the United States to stay in Iraq longer than is absolutely necessary. The primary disagreement, however, is over how best to extricate our troops from this highly volatile region. Some extremists want a timetable — now — that will begin bringing our troops home immediately. Other moderate voices want to establish measurements, or "benchmarks," that establish success criteria under which we can withdraw without thrusting Iraq into irretrievable chaos (as opposed to the potentially retrievable chaos that reigns today, I suppose).

Romney has made statements recently that indicate his support of the benchmark idea. He says — correctly — that such benchmarks should not be publicized as this gives the enemy a timeframe that they can then manipulate to their own advantage. As he loses traction in the polls, McCain has now seized upon this Romney position and placed it in his attack machine. Romney, he says, supports a defeatist position. Benchmarks, he claims, are akin to withdrawal timetables which means leaving Iraq before success is assured.

Unfortunately for McCain, he makes these statements in the age of instant information retrieval and fact-checking. Within hours of his attack on Romney, two things happened: First, Romney's campaign published an immediate rebuttal showing exactly what Romney means when he says "benchmarks," and how they cannot be misconstrued by any reasonable person as support for "timetables." McCain, however, is not a reasonable person, especially when his poll numbers are slipping in a critical state for his campaign. Secondly, fact-checking has been swift and unkind to McCain. Of primary interest is McCain's own alleged support for benchmarks as reported by a year ago. While he hadn't yet decided just what those benchmarks should be, he did state that they should be "specific" and that Iraq government officials "would have to meet them."

Sounds like support for benchmarking to me.

So the issue here is not really about benchmarks in Iraq. The issue here is what happens to a candidate who needs to resort to such low-level attacks in order to bolster his poll numbers. At this point in the race, McCain needs a lot of bolstering. The base of the party to which he has attached himself has largely deserted him. Can anyone wonder why? Consider:

  • His campaign director of "Hispanic Outreach" is an open borders panderer of the most dangerous sort. Dr. Juan Hernandez has no respect for the sovereignty of the United States, and openly advocates the elimination of borders of any kind. This does not sit well with Republican conservatives. Period.

  • McCain's work with Ted Kennedy to ram amnesty down our collective throats means that he has alienated himself from conservatives forever. In fact, on this issue alone, as a Republican he makes a better Democrat. They can have him.

  • Both McCain's "Gang of 14" and the disastrous McCain-Feingold legislation that makes a mockery of the First Amendment show McCain's willingness to kow-tow to the left side of the political spectrum. He can cloak it as "bipartisanship" all he wants. Bipartisanship is only valid in war, my friend, and is to be mistrusted in nearly all other instances.

McCain's campaign is struggling now, and it's precisely because many Republicans are trying to revive their conservative credentials. Today, more than ever before, there is a polarization between conservative and liberal voices. Those who claim centrist or moderate beliefs are more and more coming across as merely being willing to compromise their own beliefs in the name of political cooperation. There are still many of us who are unwilling to compromise those beliefs.

It may be too late for McCain to learn, or benefit, from this hardest of all political lessons.

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