Flip-Flops and YouTube

John Cole does an excellent job of demonstrating the falacy behind an attack on Obama from Ed Morrissey in a post entitled Obama still doesn’t get YouTube, does he? John responds:

Yeah, Ed. They guy who fueled his candidacy with YouTube videos and viral videos and whose campaign has a YouTube page and was notorious for emailing youtube links to the press and who raised closed to 300 million on the internet doesn’t understand YouTube. At least not as good as John McCain, who will talk at length about “a google.” Posts like this from Captain Ed and others make me wonder if the right-wing bloggers lack a complete and total sense of awareness and understanding of reality, or if they really are just Rovian hacks who have completely internalized the concept of attacking your opposition’s strengths.

Ed’s title is pretty absurd considering that John McCain doesn’t even know how to use a computer. Still, there is more to Ed’s post beyond his title which is worth discussing. Captain Ed’s main argument, putting aside the absurdity in the title, is that politicians cannot get away with changing their views on positions due to YouTube. He wrote:

In days gone by, politicians could issue mutually-contradictory messages with near impunity as the mainstream media rarely would double-check the historical record.  Now, with video on line and millions of fact-checkers scrutinizing every statement, any obviously false statement will get exposed in short order.

Just as it is ridiculous for a Republican to try to criticize Obama’s comparative knowledge of the internet, it is rather audacious to continue to use the flip-flop attack in yet another election year. John McCain’s list of flip-flops is tremendously longer than any flip-flops one might accuse Obama of. This might simply be because McCain has been in politics a lot longer as opposed to any real character flaw on McCain’s part. The real problem is the manner in which supposed flip-flops are used by conservatives as a political attack.

Republicans used claims of flip-flops against John Kerry with some success but I don’t believe they will be as successful this time around. It’s a classic case of “fool me once…” Now that the voters see through Bush and his party, they are less likely to fall for this again.

The Republican stress on flip-flops is largely a consequence of them being on the wrong side of so many issues. It allows them to attack Democrats without having a coherent argument against the actual policies. At times the difference comes down to the ideological and even theological approach Republicans often take. They might see the issue in terms of black or white when actually there are many nuances. The answer to many questions from a political stand point is not static. It is understandable for a politician to support different legislative measures at different times based upon what can pass. While Bush has been an unquestioning ideologue, Obama is a pragmatist who looks at various possible solutions to problems which fit within his broader views.

When every minute of the day is recorded, there are bound to be apparent contradictions when politicians try to sum up complex issues in simple sound bites. If you review their statements from the perspective of looking for flip-flops you are bound to find some. This approach might be satisfying to political hacks but is not very illuminating with regards to determining what a politician actually believes.

In contrast, I’ve spend over a year reviewing Obama’s statements and writings from the perspective of trying to understand his beliefs in the hopes of trying to predict what he might do once in office. That is always a risky prospect as I recall how George Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” who opposed nation building.

Gun rights, which Ed concentrates on, is one issue where Obama has taken a nuanced approach. As I posted in February, Obama both believes “there is an individual right to bear arms” and that “it’s subject to commonsense regulation.” While some inconsistency could be seen in his view as to whether the Washington, D.C. gun ban was constitutional, his overall statements on gun rights remain consistent. He has not  “done a complete 180 on gun bans” as Ed claims. Ann Althouse reviews Obama’s statements in greater detail to show there is no real contradiction. As a potential future president, Obama is also limited by an obligation to defer to the Supreme Court with regards to the ultimate question of whether something is constitutional.

NAFTA is the other issue where Obama has taken a nuanced position which political opponents use as an example of flip-flopping. If you concentrate on any one statement, especially those made in the heat of a primary battle, it is possible to make such a case. A more comprehensive review of Obama’s statements shows an overall consistent view in which Obama is basically a supporter of free trade but also sees that there are problems with NAFTA which must be fixed. Andrew Sullivan has posted a clip of what is generally a very poor interview with Obama on Fox. During the interview Obama was asked to give a one word impression of various topics. This starts with NAFTA where Obama response is “a mixed bag.” All his statements on NAFTA together represent a consistent viewpoint within this description.

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