The Republican spin machine is locked and loaded to promote the notion that Barack Obama is a "flip flopper." Four years ago it was their principal line of attack against Kerry and it worked like a charm.
In 2004, the goal of this narrative was to convince swing voters that Kerry had no core values -- that his positions and commitments were blown by the winds of public opinion just as he was blown right and left in the notorious campaign ad of Kerry wind-surfing.
Not long after the 2004 election, I was in a New Jersey taxicab. The driver was a typical male New Jersey cabbie. "So what do you think of Corzine?" I asked. "Oh, Corzine, tough guy. Like him," he replied about the then-Senator.
"What do you think of Bush?" I asked. "Like him too. Tough guy. Stands up for what he believes," came the answer.
"What about Kerry?" I asked. "Kerry? Can't stand him. Flip-flopper."
People want leaders who are firmly committed to their values. The key thing that affected the New Jersey cabbie's view wasn't the positions or views of the candidates. It was whether they stood up for what they believed. There are many independent voters just like him.
I believe that John Kerry has very clear values, but he left himself open to be defined to swing voters as if he didn't.
Barack Obama is firmly committed to progressive values that contrast sharply with the values implicit in necon foreign policy and dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest Bush-McCain economic policies.
Obama is much less likely than Kerry was to allow himself to be characterized as a flip-flopper without core values, because his entire campaign is rooted in the discussion of values. It has drawn very sharp distinctions with Republicans on the critical symbolic questions of Iraq, the economy and health care. But that won't keep Republicans from doing everything they can to try to make Obama look like he is a "typical politician" without a moral core the same way they did with Kerry.
Last week's near-frenzy in the media over Obama's alleged "move to the center" on Iraq had no substance whatsoever. It was fed, virtually entirely, by the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign that simply asserted that his statements on Iraq represented a "change " from earlier positions. That narrative was picked up and parroted by various media pundits as if it were true.
Unfortunately, some Progressives fell prey to the media wave and actually gave credence to this non-story, when the fact is that Obama has consistently supported ending the war in Iraq and withdrawing all combat troops within 16 months, at a pace that is responsive to the situation on the ground.
Progressives have to remember that the Republicans don't care about the nuances of these issues. Their goal is simple: make Obama look like he is changing his position.
All Progressives don't agree with every position Barack Obama has taken, but the fact is that very few of his positions have changed since the campaign began.
Progressives who disagree with Barack Obama but at the same time don't want to help Republicans usher in a third Bush term need to remember three things:
1). Go right ahead and disagree with an Obama position or statement -- but disagree on the substance. Don't impute some venal motive. Remember that even when you disagree with him on an issue or policy, Obama shares our progressive values.
2). Don't reinforce the Republican narrative that Obama is a "flip flopper." Disagreeing with an Obama position is very different from arguing that he agreed with you once, but now has changed positions just to win favor with the voters. First, that is generally wrong. Second, if Obama emphasizes one aspect of a position instead of another in order to attract a particular group of voters, that does not mean he "changed" his position. Third, remember that the Republicans are desperate to get Progressives to confirm their narrative and convince guys like my New Jersey taxi driver to elect John McCain.
3). Remember that there is a huge gulf between the values of Obama and McCain. Obama stands clearly in the progressive tradition of giving every human being equal opportunity to fulfill their potential. McCain stands squarely on the side of ultra-conservative values that protect the power and prerogatives of the wealthiest among us.
Obama stands firmly against the neocon foreign policies of preemptive war and unilateral action that lay at the root of the worst American foreign policy disaster in a generation. McCain stands just as firmly for the neocon vision and the Bush approach to the rest of the world.
Obama believes that economic growth happens from the bottom up and doesn't trickle down on the rest of us. He supports the rights of workers to organize to defend their standard of living, and a world where we're all in this together, not all in this alone. McCain intends to continue Bush's economic policies that have assured that all of the economic growth in the last seven years has gone to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
Obama understands that our world faces the greatest environmental crisis in history as we seek to prevent human beings from altering our climate. First and foremost, John McCain's loyalties lie with the oil industry.
We need to remember that John McCain's campaign is managed by lobbyists from the biggest special interests in America, while Barack Obama understands the need to mobilize tens of millions of Americans to change Washington from the ground up.
Progressives should go right ahead and question Obama's positions on issues -- and they should continue to hold him accountable when he is elected president. But remember that the Republicans are desperate to convince independent voters that Obama is "just another politician" whose values flow from the latest poll instead of his own commitment to principle. Don't help them. If you do you will be wrong, and you will also help the Republicans fulfill their unthinkable fantasy of a third Bush term.
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on Amazon.com.
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