In the same issue of The New Yorker that features the questionable cartoon cover of Barack and Michelle Obama, and a less-than-entirely flattering profile of Obama’s Chicago roots by Ryan Lizza, there’s another piece that probably won’t get the attention it deserves: Hendrik Hertzberg’s analysis of the recent charge against Obama of serial flip-flopping.
Hertzberg goes through the issues on which Obama has supposedly flip-flopped or “moved to the right” and makes some astute judgments:
Iraq policy? “A marginal tweak.”
Abortion? No change.
Faith-based programs? “A shift of emphasis.”
Death penalty? “A substantive tweak,” but still a tweak.
On public financing of campaigns, Hertzberg suggests that Obama broke an ill-advised promise, but didn’t really change positions.
It’s on FISA that Obama most obviously did a “U-turn,” though Hertzberg seems as baffled as I am as to whether it was politics or substance that led him to do so. Hertzberg notes the broad spectrum of civil libertarian opinion about the gravity of FISA, but leaves it to the reader to decide how much this matters.
But in general, all the talk about Obama’s “flip-flops” obscures a basic reality:
Meanwhile, McCain has been busily reversing his views in highly consequential ways. He opposed the Bush tax cuts because they favored the rich; now he supports their eternal extension. He was against offshore oil drilling as not being worth the environmental damage it brings; now he’s for it, and damn the costs. He was against torture, period; now he’s against it unless the C.I.A. does it. He keeps flipping to the wrong flops
Flip-flopping is bad politically. But flip-flopping to the wrong position is worse. Maybe Obama’s done that on FISA. But McCain’s made a habit of it, and even where he hasn’t, he tends to wind up with positions that should disturb any voter unhappy with the Bushian status quo.