When is a change in a politician's position a considered and intellectual process and when is it a "flip-flop," an act based largely on the shifting of political winds? To the cynical (bowing), the answer is: When it's your guy doing the flipping.
In the last few election cycles, the flip-flop charge has not only been an effective tool, it's spawned a variety of interesting "characters" following candidates. Here in Minnesota, we had "waffle man," who chased former gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny around one year, the "sandals" guy (see photo), and -- if memory serves -- there was a chicken mixed in there somewhere. In fact, speaking of vague memories, didn't one of them get punched in the nose out at the State Fair a few years ago?
Today at 9, Midmorning is examining flip-flopping with David Sirota, political reporter and author of "The Uprising," Allan Lichtman, political historian at American University.
I'm live-blogging the discussion in the studio and you know what that means: You get your voice heard and we simultaneously discuss the show. See you then.
9:06 a.m. - OK, we're underway. Let's hear from you. While waiting to start, I browsed "flip flop" on YouTube. Check out some of the ways the term is used to attack a political challenger.
9:09 David Sirota is up first from Denver. "Money creates flip-flops," he says. Obama said there was political opportunity to court progressives by being against warrantless wire tapping. He changed his position when he had a chance to get money from the telecommunications business. Same, he says, for McCain. He says "money came in, and then the position changed."
When is it a flip-flop? When nothing changes in the world to warrant the change in position.
9:11 Flip-flopping "is as old as politics," says Allan Lichtmann. He says McCain has flip-flopped over abortion, tax cuts, affirmative action; Obama, he says, has moved "more toward the center" in advocating off-shore drilling, a softer position on gun control.
But where are the voters -- you? -- on this? "I think voters have always been willing to accept a position change, Lichtmann says. Really? But the flip-flop charge works, doesn't it?
9:14 - Flip flopping is getting dissed here. So let's consider the story this week in The Atlantic on what happened to the Clinton campaign. Internal memos showed she was advised to stress Obama's flip-flopping and "make him seem less American." She didn't. It also notes that McCain has stressed Obama's inexperience over the same option. The facts suggest that polling shows that charges of flip-flopping work. Right?
9:16 - It wasn't flip-flopping that doomed John Kerry, Lichtmann says. It was that it exposed a "consultant-driven, wooden, scripted campaign." He had no vision.
9:18 - Observation: In many ways, flip-flopping has been a tradition in Minnesota local politicians. Mostly with Republicans in the '90s, the "insiders" at the state convention were so extreme, that Republicans had to run to the right to get the endorsement, and then race to the center to try to win a general election (or, a September primary). Is it really any different, now? Is flip-flopping a recognition that there's a disconnect between the party members who bestow things like endorsements, and the people on main street who actually vote?
Maybe it's more of a commentary on the political process than the individual candidates?
9:21 - Sirota: "A good politician is one who has underlying principles, not to corner themselves into a position they'd have to flip on." He says a smart politician won't box him/herself in. In Montana, he says, the feds tried to force a federal ID card. The governor didn't want to sign onto it and made the decision to say "no." It became a game of chicken between the Department of Homeland Security and the state. He didn't back down. He could have flip flopped.
9:26 - How much is the media responsible for this? (Picking up on Steve's comment). Sirota says once a candidate is billed in a media narrative as a 'media flip-flopper,' it's hard to pull out of that. "You can't prove a negative," he observes.
9:27 -- Time to put up a poll.
9:39 - Lichtmann is taking on Republicans for being against social engineering and then taking on "the biggest social engineering project ever" in Iraq. Also notes that President Bush, alleged to be anti-government, has set up the largest government ever. Sirota says he agrees.
And maybe that's the story we'll have to look at when the Republicans come to St. Paul: this "tension" between what the Republican Party says and what it's been unable -- or unwilling -- to do.
9:42 - The immigration issue is fundamental, Lichtmann says. The hard-core social conservatives and the Republican base of businesses has split the party down the middle.
9:43 - News Cut discussion leads to question on Midmorning. Like it. "This is a culture that gets its news from 30 second sound bites," Sirota says. "We ask for less the positions and more the character issues." So is the problem the media? Or the voters who settle for less?
9:46 -" Do candidates have a mandate to flip-flop?" a caller asks (Pat). Where does the politician find the balance between sanding on what they believe and being open to the views of the constituents. Lichtmann: "They have to tread a fine line between the two. It depends on how firmly the position is principled, vs. responsive to changes in external circumstances. And it depends on how strongly the public makes its voice heard."
A good time to reissue the challenge to Minnesota politicians (and I know you're reading this): When's the last time you changed your mind on an issue? I've asked that question since I wrote Polinaut 2 1/2 years ago. No Minnesota politician has admitted changing his/her mind. To me, that tells me how scared they are to the flip-flop charge.
9:51 - Sirota and Lichtmann arguing. Sirota says Lichtmann wants politicians to ignore the public. "We are in an era of politics where pandering is the model; leadership is not the model," he says.
Licthmann says the most important legislation does not begin with a few politicians holding to their convictions regardless of what the politicians thought. It (the Civil rights Act, for example), began with a small group of citizens. If your model is "this is not a democracy, it's a representative system and the politician has to stick with his ideas, you never would've gotten the Voting Rights Act," he said.
"What you're throwing out is kind of absurd," Sirota says.
(Off mic: "Should I come back to you one more time," Kerri says. "No," I reply. "It's not worth interrupting this argument for." Sirota and Lichtmann battle in the background. Wow! Some of the best debate I've heard in years here. I'll be isolating this after the show and posting it here)
9:56 -- Kerri and I are sitting back and listening to these two. Fascinating.(11 Comments)
On the heels of the revelation that China faked the giant footsteps fireworks for its TV and stadium audience (Good interview with NPR media critic here), comes word of another bit of showbiz.
The Mail Online reports that the cute girl who sang the national anthem was a phony, too. She lip-synced -- not uncommon for a major performance, one supposes -- the anthem, but not because she couldn't sing, but because the girl with the actual voice wasn't pretty enough.
The Web site reports the kid who didn't sing is now a big star.
A new Olympic-watching past-time: Calculating whether Michael Phelps will win more gold medals than the number of instances of China faking something.(4 Comments)
One's antenna always should go up when a special interest group releases a poll that shows a result favorable to the special interest group. But a poll is a poll and today's comes from the American Petroleum Institute which reports its poll finds 58% of Minnesotans support "increased access" to oil and gas reserves (i.e. ANWR and coastal drilling). Twenty-percent of those people only somewhat support the idea.
Ninety-four percent of those surveyed are "concerned" about the price of gas. Five percent "aren't concerned at all."
The results are pretty much the same as a survey Quinnipiac took in Minnesota last month. In that survey, 59 percent of those surveyed said they support drilling for oil off the coasts. Half of those who said they supported drilling, said they have always held that view; that's a sign of the shifting political sand on the issue.
But in that same survey, 61 percent of those surveyed said they'd rather have politicians focus on alternative forms of energy, than drilling for oil.
Barack Obama has an interesting promotion to announce his selection of a vice presidential candidate. In an e-mail to supporters, Obama is having people sign up to be the "first to know," courtesy of an e-mail or a text message. As near as I can tell, pretty much everyone is signing up, meaning nobody except the first person who opens his/her cellphone or e-mail is going to be "the first" to know.
Basically, you're the first to know in the same manner as if you watched it broadcast live on CNN.
It's worth pointing out, though, there is no privacy notice at the sign-up site, so it's anybody's guess where your e-mail address and cellphone number will end up.
He'll get good mileage out of the gimmick, though, as this post attests(1 Comments)
So the last diaper service in the Twin Cities is closing. Cheek-to-Cheek Diaper Service went out, not with a bang, but a swipe at the young parents of Minnesota. "Minnesotans are not as environmentally conscious as they pretend to be. Cloth is just as easy to use as disposable," the owner told the Star Tribune.
How many diaper services are left in the state? Two, according to Carmen Barthel, the manager of one of them -- the Small Change Diaper Service in La Crescent. "But most of our customers are from Wisconsin."
Business is picking up for her firm, though. It's doubled -- from 13 in January to 26 now. It's not enough to make a buck (Cheek-to-Cheek had about 6 times as many customers), but then it's not really designed to.
The diaper service is part of the Ability Building Center, a program that provides ability training to developmentally disabled adults. It trains 80 people between two sites.
"When we first started, we had high hopes that we were going to have lots of customers, Ms. Barthel told me today, "but it just never worked out as we had hoped."(1 Comments)
Every day we get a list of upcoming events, courtesy of the Associated Press. The top item from Wisconsin jumped out today:
Wednesday, August 13:
8:30 a.m. SHEBOYGAN - Jury trial for 28-year-old Angelique R.
Vandeberg who is charged with shooting her 8-year-old daughter in
the thigh with a BB gun to win a $1 bet and violating her bond by
drinking alcohol. Sheboygan County Circuit Court. Judge Timothy M.
I'm not sure how I missed this at the time, but it happened in May. The AP archive tells the intimate details:
The girl said the shooting occurred in her mother's bedroom after her mother had 10 to 12 beers.
The boyfriend bet the mother $1 she wouldn't shoot the girl. The mother responded by taking the gun and shooting the girl, who was wearing three pairs of pants. The BB deflected off her leg and struck her 7-year-old brother, who wasn't injured.(1 Comments)
Historically at MPR, our talk shows shy away from periods where guests argue with each other. Perhaps it's unseemly, or maybe it's the whole Minnesota Nice thing. At times, I think it's refreshing, but I'm from back East.
Today on Midmorning, we were in the middle of a conversation on flip-flopping (I live-blogged it here) when the question of when politicians should vote their principles, and when they should vote what their constituents want, even if it's against their better judgment. This is a version of the "we're not a democracy, we're a republic" argument.
That's when guests Allan Lichtman (political historian at American University) and David Sirota (political reporter and syndicated columnist) got into a fascinating exchange.
I promised to provide audio of the bit earlier today and then forgot. But here it is (Listen). The first voice you hear is Lichtman's.(1 Comments)