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December 25, 2006

Know Thyself

The other day, I was on a jog and, for some reason, began thinking about Kerry. Mainly, I was thinking about flip-flopping, and how disastrous Bush's pigheadedness has finally proven to be. Back in 2004, on Pandagon, I used to argue for Kerry to embrace flip-flopping as a virtue, recast a willingness to face complexity into a form of political courage. "Every politician is afraid of being wrong, the difference between me and Mr. Bush is that, given the stakes, I'm even more afraid not being right." So I was fascinated to see Kerry write that op-ed, albeit two years too late:

There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop.

I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand. Barbed words can make for great politics. But with U.S. troops in Iraq in the middle of an escalating civil war, this is no time for politics. Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous -- it is immoral.

I'd rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live.[..]

President Bush and all of us who grew up in the shadows of World War II remember Winston Churchill -- his grit, his daring, his resolve. I remember listening to his speeches on a vinyl album in the pre-iPod era. Two years ago I spoke about Iraq at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill had drawn a line between freedom and fear in his "iron curtain" speech. In preparation, I reread some of the many words from various addresses that made him famous. Something in one passage caught my eye. When Churchill urged, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in," he added: "except to convictions of honour and good sense."

This is a time for such convictions.

Maybe such an approach, during the election, would've been suicide. But maybe it wouldn't have been. Kerry's op-ed is a heartbreaking reminder of what could have been. Not only a better president, but a more honorable, more courageous, campaign.

December 25, 2006 | Permalink


I'd rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live.


Posted by: craigie | Dec 25, 2006 10:57:24 PM


© 2006 Mark Robert Gates

The problem is, Kerry, never was a flip-flopper, if anything the accurate accusation against Kerry is that he tried to cover too many positions. He, fell for the Republican rhetoric, against left-wing and liberal ideology, and tried to cover all of his positions, as if being a Democrat, was actually evil, criminal and immoral, as Bush' espoused. Kerry, failed to point out that the real flip-flopper, was and still is, George W. Bush.

In all of Bush' public life in his presidency, the history documents, Bush, would start out, always, at one position, his own, and when finally faced with enough public and congressional opposition, would flip-flop, to America's wants and needs. All along, Bush' has stood for Bush' only, even to the point of wanting to prosecute people for questioning his ability to lead, and then, also, he has enough disdain for those he supposedly leads, to try to cancel our' American liberties and rights, even free speech and free press, and also free religious choice.

If, Kerry wants to be a successful VP, as the presidency slot is already filled, by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, then he has to be willing to be less polite, and launch persuasive counter-attacks. Kerry, needs to solidify his position that in America, politics is always opinion, and everybody is entitled to their political opinion, as there is no science or theology here, only freedom as an American to be part of the American government, as designed by our' forefathers. Therefore, we need to impress on our' neighbors, this left/right, Democrat/Republican divide, needs to be closed so we can get down to business, as there are many things, about a million, going unresolved here in America. Like people picking up our children off of public streets, and raping and molesting them, and then depositing them in a ditch. While, we tap phones looking for Terrorists, this terror goes on unchecked, and gives those evil monsters a chance to get an hour about themselves on, Nancy Grace, to record and watch over, and over, until they get caught.

-Mark Robert Gates

please my blogs:


Posted by: Mark Robert Gates | Dec 25, 2006 11:50:03 PM

he should have said this in 2004, but the problem with our nominees is summed up by what they 'should' have said if they ran like they wanted to win. The Gore in 2006 is the Gore that should have ran in 2000. The Kerry that we see now is the Kerry that should have run in 2004. In 2010 will we be saying the Democratic nominee's rhectoric is what he or she should have been saying in 2008? I hope not. You call it taking a risk, but I call it wanting to win. The GOP has no such qualms about showing up with their game face fully on (McCain is hiring the best of the best of the nasty campaigners), and yet what do we get? We have potential candidates like Obama talking about kumbaya, and why can't we all just get a long. We have supporters sitting around trying to appear "reasonable" to people who could careless if you are reasonable. I have to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I want to smack Obama and his supporters, and say to them "snap out of it!" We don't have time for this anymore. After you win the WH then you have reconcilliation- not before. Before, it just comes across as weakness or arrogance. I would say the same to HRC and any other candidate trying to run like this. To all candidates wanting to run this time- let me offer Kerry as Exhibit A. There are two options- fight or lose. Define or be defined.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 26, 2006 12:56:14 AM

ps mark's post is delusional. good night.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 26, 2006 12:58:28 AM

I don't suppose those approving of the "fighting" Kerry now are the same ones who wanted to send him straight to hell a couple months ago for not keeping his mouth shut. I don't see so much to make me long for what could have been in Kerry's remarks. It's half rhetorical spin and half old, and to my view simplistic, analysis, well within the bounds of safe opinion. It's essentially what he called for in 2004. The flip-flop lines? Wouldn't have helped at all; he tried similar stuff at the time. And what real relevance does this old rhetorical campaign wart have to Iraq? Iraq isn't about Kerry and what he was accused of. The same points could have been made more appropriately without being reduced to this flip-flop twaddle. Looks like he's still trying to get back at Bush over it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 26, 2006 2:17:58 AM

The Republicans take any kind of behavior and ridicule it through name-calling. If Kerry didn't change his mind, he'd be a "stick in the mud" (or worse). The "flip-flop" charge was merely a schoolyard taunt for somebody who changes their mind, either because new facts are brought in, or an initial premise is now seen to be flawed.

Maybe Kerry could have been faulted for his policy positions then and now, but the Republicans aren't interested in that debate. Instead, they take process elements and declare them to be the character flaw.

Posted by: quiddity | Dec 26, 2006 2:23:23 AM

There is the obvious problem (facing most of the GOP faithful, and some Dems as well) that if you come up slogans that you think sell your message by being unattackable, or paint your opponents in bad light by picking on obvious and laudable human behavior (course correctons in light of new facts), you are stuck with that position when it comes time, as it almost always does, to consider new facts or circumstances.

Hence, Bush let Rove sell the story of Kerry being a flip-flopper, so Bush is now trapped (even if he wanted to change positions, which is doubtful) into NOT being a flip-flopper himself. Recall he was against forming a Dept. of Homeland Security, but he slithered out of that and became its champion - mostly by raising the issue of preventing union representation for DHS employees, a sideshow, but effective in avoiding the F/F charge.

Same deal on 'stay the course'. He said it so many times, he lost the ability to change course, except to escalate.

All that is owed by a public figure is a convincing explanation in adequate detail to indicate WHY they changed their position. Pretending that you haven't changed when you have is, however, deadly.

When you listen to advisors that say you must condense your message into a headline and you follow that advice, you are just asking for the public to wonder, disrespectfully, why you changed the headline - they didn't understand the original position, and they won't understand the new one either since neither is buttressed by the meat of content. When politics is all personality and no content, being 'steadfast' (or even 'stubborn', which seems now acceptable to the MSM) is a virtue.

In regard to Kerry, I'm not sure their really was some core of substance under the several patches of veneer that showed different grain day to day. I thought there was during the 04 electoral season, but now I see it was mostly just the consultant's positioning or framing.

Will we ever see the politics of authenticity? Is that what Obama is trying to sell?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 26, 2006 2:41:46 AM

Yeah... like others I'd avoid the temptation of saying "if only Kerry had done/said this in 2004." There isn't a quick fix, or a single fix to solve what ailed his campaign, and it comes dwon to "if only we'd had someone other than Kerry," which is, to me, the point, and the real lesson for 2008. The charge of "Kerry as flip-flopper" was really part of a larger charge of "will say anything to get elected," something that Kerry has not, and really will never climb out of, because... well, perhaps it's true, for one thing. Of course I want politicians who are open and graceful enough to admit mistakes and errors of judgement. But first and foremost, I want someone who, unlike my 4 (almost 5) year old nephew, doesn't need to be saying "sorry" all the time. Bull-headedness is but one part of what's wrong with Bush - the other part is being essentially wrong on the opinion he decided to be so bullheaded about in the first place. Flip-flopping wouldn't solve or explain away his disastrous Iraq policy. There's simply no way to excuse it. As Democrats, we can merely take grim satisfaction in knowing we figured that out ahead of others. Doesn't solve the problem we face now, and doesn't do a thing to excuse the waste and loss and death.

Posted by: weboy | Dec 26, 2006 8:58:50 AM

I was searching for what bothers me about the language being used here by Sanpete and other. Here's what I came up with. Did Kerry's personality- matter. Absolutely. Does strategy matter? Yes. Was Kerry's flip flopping issue a matter of personality, strategy or GOP branding? The answer is yes to all three. Does that address the issue pulled out from the other issues about strategy being a factor in the issue of flip flopping? No- and that's where the argument is laid bare because the strategy, itself, produces the same result regardless of pesonality.

The argument by others seems to be that we wil achieve a better result with a better personality using the same strategy. This, of course, ignores the GOP, which one should never do. But, let's for argument sake do that here.

The core of the personality alone argument (not put that way, but this is short hand for what it is) assumes the strategy itself would not produce the same result if Kerry were not Kerry. That's where the problem lies, isn't it?

But, this isn't just Kerry. The same things Kerry did, were advised to Gore with similar determinations being made about Gore's personality based on his strategy. HRC is employing similar strategies with similar critiques. Obama and his supporters employ similar strategies, and the arguments against him have only begun (see the Gary Hart article).

The point is that the strategy itself leaves one open to the personality attack even if one is the best of charismatic leaders. It muddles over time what makes one seem so appealing. A great resume. A charismatic speaker. A great thinker. All of it is leveled in part by the strategy. You are handicapping our candidates before they even get started regardless of whatever other weaknesses they may have because a) it does fit into the GOP narrative and b) as a strategy its goal is to not offend anyone (which is why Kerry was called flip flopper- he was so busy trying to not offend that he ended up saying nothing that peole ultimately could understand).

I suppose people will continue to think its simply a matter of the right personality. I agree with you that it is a matter of the right personality. The problem is that it isn't enough if you have the right personality if that personality is employing the wrong strategies that starts them off with an uphill run.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 26, 2006 11:17:47 AM

one quick note: the process of being vague- which is really the core Democratic strategy, as I think about it in terms of human nature, is a really bad way of doing business. It's not only that it's about define, or be defined, it's that human nature when given blanks or gaps will tend to want to fill in those gaps or blanks. In other words, it's not only the GOP or media that fuels this, it is intrinsic to how people think. Think of this like the Jesus face on a piece of fruit theory. No matter how outlandish, if people aren't provided the right information they will fill in the gaps somehow. The question becomes given this nature, who gets to fill in the gaps? Flip flopping, fibber etc all seem to be ways for people to fill in gaps when they don't quite know what's wrong, but they know something is.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 26, 2006 11:32:50 AM

Akaison, the issues you keep bringing up are important, but they aren't what I or others were talking about here. And again, for the record, no one here has said that candidates should avoid all specificity and controversy. We've simply pointed out that candidates will naturally be less specific and controversial than you would probably prefer. It has also been pointed out that Obama, in particular, is still only thinking about running, and may well become more specific if he does run.

On your point about personality, the flip-flop thing wouldn't work on just anyone. Personality can be decisive. You define yourself not only by policy but by showing understanding of issues, that you get people's concerns, that you see possibilities to solve them, that you're a strong, clear thinker, and so on. Kerry handled the attacks badly in part because he's not that strong and not that talented.

Bull-headedness is but one part of what's wrong with Bush - the other part is being essentially wrong on the opinion he decided to be so bullheaded about in the first place.

I think the latter is the real problem.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 26, 2006 2:43:26 PM


a) It's not my specificity that's at issue. I see how you play the game. When someone questions your chickenshit strategy then it's them requesting specificity. The voters calling a candidate flip flopper, etc is what shows this is required. Not me.

b) Obama isn't just thinking about running. He is acting like someone running. And frankly he is besidest he point, but I can understand with someone with your mindset how that may be confusing that I would use him as an example rather than the main point. But then I also mention Gore, HRC and Kerry- so I am a bit confused how you settled on that point. Oh, and by the way, it's completely irrelevant to my thesis that the strategy that you expouse is one that has hurt the party. can you please show how it hasn't with the aknowledged fact that clinton happened 15 years ago, and was a plurality win.

c) Please show me- since you keep bringing up the strawman- where I am talking about policy? I am specifically referring to how strategy can shape people's perception of personality.

Finally, let me give you a piece of advice (that I know you won't hear but i will try anyhow) - it's 2006, not 1992. What worked then, won't work now. Your theories assume that the system remains stagnant. Mines do not.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 26, 2006 3:09:59 PM

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