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More than Just 'Flip-Flops'

By Matthew P. Downer

From my summer working at the Republican National Convention (RNC), I learned, among many other valuable truths, that Republicans sweat the details. From balloons that fell at the right time to a round stage that drove a news cycle, the organizers of the RNC spoke to mainstream America with expertise that was envied by their Democratic counterparts, crafting every detail of the massive production to effectively communicate the desired message to average Americans. Ask these average Americans what comes to mind when they hear the words “flip-flop” and the answer is likely to be John Kerry. While it’s easy to dismiss such an epitaph as a baseless partisan attack, doing so runs the risk of overlooking the disturbing degree to which it is justified.

Accused of flip-flopping on the war in Iraq, Kerry defends his force-authorizing vote by claiming that he voted to threaten force rather than to actually use it. But the fact is that in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News on May 4, 2003, after Saddam Hussein had been disarmed, Kerry clearly said, “I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the President made the decision, I supported him, and I support that fact that we did disarm him.” In direct contradiction to his most recent claims, Kerry unequivocally stated that he supported the President’s decision to use force, not just to threaten force.

After voting to pass the Patriot Act and even defending it on the campaign trail, saying that it “[had] to do with things that really were quite necessary in the wake of what happened on September 11,” Kerry reversed his position and now decries it as a direct assault on fundamental American rights.

After ridiculing President Bush for “confusing” the war in Iraq with the war on terror, Kerry honored soldiers who died in Iraq by saying that they gave “their lives on behalf of their country, on behalf of freedom in the war on terror.”

Kerry voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, saying that the bill “recognizes the reality of today’s economy—globalization and technology,” but now says that he would vote against it.

Kerry called Israel’s security fence a “legitimate act of self-defense” after condemning it to the Arab American Institute National Leadership Conference as a “barrier to peace” that serves “only [to] harm Israel’s security…[and] increase hardships to [sic] the Palestinian people.”

“Can’t a guy change his mind?” some ask. Of course, but these are just a few of the issues on which the Democratic presidential nominee blatantly reversed his position as soon as doing so became politically expedient. The distance between his positions on a given issue, and the frequency of his drastic alterations, should be serious causes for concern among two different groups for two different reasons. Kerry supporters should be worried about the election. When a race is close and comes down to undecideds and voter turnout among the base, a candidate with Kerry’s scattered record should beware. When undecideds consider the candidates a toss-up on the issues, they often decide based on who they like, trust and know. Kerry has trouble in all three areas. He will also have trouble motivating his base—disliking “the other guy” only goes so far.

But it’s not just Kerry supporters who should be concerned. All Americans should be deeply troubled by a politician who takes one position when the war is popular and another when it loses favor, one with an Arab group and another when reaching out to Jews, one when the country unites after attack and another when running for the highest office in the land. The person we elect to be our president for the next four years must be someone we can trust to do what he believes is right. The dangers we face are serious and require a consistent, principled approach. When dealing with issues of life and death, taking a step in one direction before scampering in the other as soon as the polls change seriously compromises American security.

Like many Democrats, when I hear the words “flip-flop,” I cringe. I cringe because flip-flops are unimportant and easily dismissed. I cringe because many hear “flip-flop” and are irritated by “Republican spin” rather than troubled by unprincipled ambition. Flip-flops are trivial, but our decision this November is not. In comparing John Kerry and President Bush, we would do well to look beyond talking points and press releases to a record that reflect the true character of a man and the attributes that reveal the qualities of a leader.

Matthew P. Downer ‘07, a government concentrator in Quincy House, interned this summer in the Program Office of the Republican National Convention. He is on the board of the Harvard Republican Club and is Vice-Chair of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans.

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