Remember back in 2004 when delegates at the Republican presidential convention waved those flip-flop sandals and Republican crowds throughout the campaign then chanted with delight, “flip-flop, flip-flop,” mocking, in part, John Kerry’s I-voted-for-it-before-I-voted-against it Iraq CV. At the time, Democrats were vociferously claiming that Kerry’s “resolute” opponent was, in fact, the Flip-Flopper-in-Chief, but they could never make the charge stick, while Republicans had the times of their political lives with those “whichever way the wind blows” windsurfing ads.
Two years have passed. Another election season is more than upon us and, though no Democratic-sponsored waffle ads are out there, nor are Democrats waving beach footwear or shouting flip-flop mantras, the fact is top Republicans have been performing Olympic-level flips and flops recently. George W. Bush, for example, suddenly cut-and-ran from his signature Iraq phrase: stay the course. Our steadfast president turned chameleon in the face of politically terrifying polling figures on the Iraq War, congressional performance, and himself. In Florida, visiting a company that produces devices to detect roadside bombs, no longer was he the plodding “stay the course” guy of the last year. Instead, he was suddenly a maestro of “change,” a darting, dashing Wile E. Coyote of a president, zipping off a cliff while saying things like: “We’re constantly changing. The enemy changes, and we change. The enemy adapts to our strategies and tactics, and we adapt to theirs. We’re constantly changing to defeat this enemy.” Change or flip flop?
Or take Tennessee’s Bill Frist, Republican Senate majority leader. As the political season was just heating up in June, even before the President and his advisors launched their seven-speech terrorism and Iraq August/September assault on the Democrats, Frist was already leading the political charge with his election issue of choice. He was standing in the Senate “slamming” Democrats and thundering: “This amendment effectively calls on the United States to cut and run from Iraq. Let me be clear: retreat is not a solution. Our national security requires us to follow through on our commitments.”
Like the president, deep into September he was still excoriating the Democrats not just for their positions on the Iraq War, but for their “surrender” policies in the war on terror. As he put it in a PBS interview with Jim Lehrer on September 14th:
“I’d say, ‘Wake up, Harry Reid. Wake up, Harry Reid…’ I think that [the president] has got it right, that we’re not going to do what Harry Reid wants to do, and that is surrender, to wave a white flag, to cut and run at a time when we’re being threatened… as we all saw just three or four weeks ago, in a plot from Britain that was going to send 10 airplanes over here.”
He then characterized the Democratic Party as a group “who basically belittle in many ways this war on terror, who do want to wave this white flag and surrender.”
This was to be the election program of the Republican Party that would be resolutely repeated over and over until… uh, but then those polls started pouring in and the course got a little bumpy to stay on. Recently, according to Washington Post reporters Peter Slevin and Michael Powell, Frist offered the following succinct advice to congressional candidates: “The challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, and not on the Iraq and terror issue.”
Call it waving the white flag or cutting and running, if you want… or, if the occasion moves you, why not just start up that chant: flip-flop, flip-flop…