Sunday, August 3, 2008
I've come to detest the flip-flopping ways of candidates over the years.
Sadly, it's almost expected that candidates will lie through their teeth as elections move forward. They used to simply claim they never made certain promises, but the new, more refined politicians claim that they've simply changed their minds on issues due to further study, changing circumstances and etc.
The scary thing is, our current crop of politicians have a slew of apologists who have taken it upon themselves to rush around convincing us unrefined Americans that such position shifting is actually just fine. One gets the clear sense that each party is packed with "true believers" who aren't above backing candidates who will say whatever it takes to get elected.
Apparently, the "true beilevers" are so convinced that their boy is right that there's an odd, Machiavellian justification at work here. If Candidate X must say a few things to convince voters to put him in office, then that's OK. What's good for Candidate X is good for the nation, after all, and since when did people ever know what's best for them, anyway?
Sure, these days we hear such rationalizations as candidates need to move to the center to attract votes, that open-minded views are necessary in a political landscape that's ever changing and etc. It still looks like the same old nonsense we've put up with for years -- politicians say whatever will net them votes, back down from their promises and rely on our short memories so they can get away with it.
As I said, however, things have changed. We're still being fed lies, but one gets the sense that it's OK these days -- that elected officials are expected to not keep their word and that we voters ought to know that. Honestly, that's a cynical view and I'm amazed that it seems to control political dialog these days. We deserve better, but how can we expect better if society reinforces the idea that lying to voters is expected and even necessary to secure votes?
At any rate, my purpose here is to explain how the art of flip-flopping has changed over the years. To that end, I'll pick on two completely despicable politicians, Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee. As a native Arkansan I know both of those weasels pretty well and bashing on them is always fun.
Oh, and I'll pick on Ray Thornton, too. He's particularly nasty and I'm thrilled that he'll go down in history as a virtual nobody. However, I've just got to take a swipe at him for reasons I'll explain later.
Bill Clinton and Ray Thornton
I'll start with Bubba Bill because he's an old school liar, but he's the forerunner of this new batch of liarheads. Back when Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he was good about making promises while running for office then forgetting them once the election was finished. He flexed his old school liar muscles skillfully back then, indeed, by simply denying he ever made certain promises when they came back to haunt him.
Of course, Bill and his family packed up the truck and headed uptown to Washington a few years later and Wanderin' Willy's lying ways served him well. Back in 1992, for example, Clinton promised a middle class tax cut to every audience that would listen and people loved him for it.
By the time he got in office, that promise was promptly forgotten. To make matters worse, I remember watching Clinton's little toady, that grinning George Stephanopoulos, on one of those Sunday morning political shows. The host asked Georgie about the middle class tax cut, and Stephanopoulos denied Bill ever said such a thing.
Now, that's some first rate lying! To claim a thing, instruct your flunkies to deny you ever said it and then simply get away with it.
Such tactics weren't uncommon of course, and I'll mention one of the more reprehensible candidates to back off an issue of importance -- Ray Thornton. I particularly can't stand that weasel because one of his lies directly impacted me.
Ray Thornton, a Democrat, was running for Congress in my district back in 1990. I was an intern reporter for the Arkansas Democrat back then, and Thornton declared it was time to pull our troops back from overseas bases. He favored the idea of having all troops stationed in the U.S., but to have them ready for rapid deployment to wherever they were needed. I wrote an article about his plan after watching him at one of his campaign stops, and another reporter -- Tony Moser -- wrote about it around a week later.
Thornton's opponent made hay out of his idea, so the man claimed that he never said such a thing. Yes, he claimed that Moser -- a well-known Republican sympathizer -- was merely smearing him (to this day, I'm grateful that Thornton didn't pick on me -- perhaps he figured destroying the reputation of a nobody college kid wasn't worth his time).
At any rate, Thornton's technique worked and he wound up winning the election and taking his liarhead ways to Washington. On behalf of my district, no less. Yay for him.
So, there are two examples from the old school. During Clinton's time in office, however, it seems that people actually started remembering things and were more willing to call politicians to the carpet than they had been in the past. So, the current new breed of liars started appearing.
Now, here's one of the more accomplished liars of the new breed. Huckabee, back in 2002, showed how the new "lie and explain" technique was far more effective than the time-honored, Clintonian "lie and deny" technique that had fallen out of favor.
In 2002, Huckabee was running for his second term as Arkansas' governor. A major issue at the time involved sales tax on food. There was a push in Arkansas at the time to abolish such taxes and Huckabee was one of the politicians demanding that it simply wasn't right to collect sales taxes on food.
So Huckabee ran around the state promising to do what he could to get rid of those nasty old sales taxes. As soon as he won the gubernatorial race, however, he shifted gears and started actively lobbying against an attempt to do away with those very taxes.
He claimed that he had taken a closer look at the issue and had decided that the state simply couldn't afford the revenue it would lose should food be exempt from sales tax. One has to wonder -- could it be that Huckabee had already done his analysis prior to the election but simply jumped on the tax exempt bandwagon in order to get in office? Could be.
We've moved from an age in which politicians simply deny having made promises to one in which they tend to explain why they've reversed their positions on certain issues, thus rationalizing their filthy, lying ways. Regardless of technique, lying is still lying and we ought not put up with this garbage. I find it amazing that it's almost expected that candidates won't live up to their promises. How on earth are we supposed to know what we're getting when we put someone in office?
We're going to hear a lot in the coming months about how McCain and Obama are simply gravitating toward the middle and adopting more rational rhetoric to win over voters. Do we really want a system in which politicians come across as extremely liberal or conservative in the primaries in order to gain votes, then soften their views in order to reach moderates in general elections? Just what is it they believe, anyway, and how are we to know?
I think we deserve better and ought to hold these folks accountable. Then again, maybe we're so used to getting lied to be our leaders that few people care anymore. I hope not. Still, it's a shame that none but a very few know exactly what a leader will do when he gets in office.