Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Flip-Flops

The media regularly seize on Mitt Romney’s flip-flops as one of the major problems facing his 2012 bid. But as Ronald Kessler points out, President Obama has managed to dodge the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, even as he has backtracked on numerous major campaign promises:

Instead of opposing an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is essential to protecting the country, Obama has supported extending it. Instead of trying terrorists as criminals in civilian courts, the administration will try them before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of closing the prison camp there, Obama is keeping it open. Obama said he would start pulling out troops from Afghanistan in July. Now the Pentagon is saying that date is not set in stone. While he said previously he would roll back the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, Obama ultimately supported retaining those cuts.

It is true that some writers on the far left—like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald—have regularly called attention to Obama’s inconsistencies. But so far the media haven’t touted this as a major obstacle to the president’s reelection bid. “The difference between Romney and Obama is that Romney is a Republican, while Obama is a Democrat who is adored by the media,” Kessler argues. “For that reason, you will rarely see Obama described on television or in print as a flip-flopper.”

But another reason could be that the “flip-flopper” charge clashes with the media narrative about Obama. The press has been saying since 2008 that Obama is an exceedingly “nuanced thinker.” So when he shifts on the issues, this is chalked up to his distaste for “black-and-white” policy solutions, as well as his ability to transcend Washington’s partisanship-as-usual.