I took the title from this piece - which dissected the "Obama is a Muslim" smear.
Today I find myself writing a diary that I should not have to write - defending a candidate that I should not have to defend against a claim that people here should be loath to repeat. This is hardly the first time a Democratic nominee has been misrepresented, lied about, smeared, slammed, etc. on a liberal blog. I'm sure it won't be the last.
Those of us who were here 4 years ago most likely remember SYFPH very well. SYFPH was born as a result of the MANY Democrats here on DKos (and elsewhere) who felt that Kerry would win no matter what, or that he'd lose and then we should all jump off bridges and move to New Zealand, or who felt that a vote for Nader was better than a vote for kerry - because Kerry was WRONG about the war in Iraq...the Republicans were right, he was a flip-flopper, etc.
In fact, let's take a bit of a stroll down memory lane:
Polls make clear the extent to which Bush's flip-flop charge has stuck. A poll released last week by Kohut's Pew Center showed that 53 percent of voters believe Kerry "changes his mind too much." This was down a few percentage points from a poll the week earlier, apparently showing that the effects of the Republican National Convention -- in which delegates swayed in unison chanting "flip-flop, flip-flop" about Kerry -- are wearing off. Even so, the latest data show that 62 percent said the attribute "takes a stand" applies more to Bush than to Kerry, while 29 percent said the opposite. Bush won by 57 percent to 34 percent on which candidate more deserves the phrase "strong leader."
If Kerry had won 4 years ago, we would be in a very different place today. I blame myself for this. I didn't work as hard as I could have. I didn't travel enough to those swing states. I didn't register enough new voters. I didn't make enough calls through MoveOn.org's website. I didn't knock on enough doors.
I'm not the only one to blame though. I blame those who were too pure to vote for Kerry - who voted Nader or stayed home instead. I blame those who bought Republican talking points. I blame Republicans in many areas for suppressing Dem voter turnout with misinformation campaigns. I blame those Democrats who thought we'd win without doing any work (oh, they existed). I blame our education system for not teaching people to read, write, or think critically - if they had those skills, they wouldn't be voting Republican - unless of course they're heartless assholes. But this is all beside the point.
Today, I am writing this diary to defend Barack Obama. A lot of you think he doesn't need defending. That's fine. I disagree. I'm a Democrat - and I see it as my job to defend, promote, volunteer for, and support (in any way I can) our candidates - whether I agree with them or like them.
So here we go --
I think it's important to remind the netroots about this editorial and its message:
The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.
Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked. In repeating a falsehood, someone may back it up with an opening line like "I think I read somewhere" or even with a reference to a specific source.
So...in 2004 John Kerry was branded a flip-flopper. This was one of the things that cost him the election. It cost him thousands of votes - it lost him many Independents who felt that they couldn't vote for someone whose opinion was so changeable.
Well, Republicans aren't stupid - they saw what worked for them in 2004 and figured they'd try it again this year.
The "Obama is a flip-flopper" meme started in May - right after Obama became the nominee. The Weekly Standard picked it up on May 15th (not shocking). The AP picked up the message recently...and you know how the AP loves to help Republicans. Eternal Hope even covered this attempt here on DKos...regarding Obama's position on Iraq - which has not changed. In the past two months the right-wing media and pundits have done such a great job pushing the "flip-flopper" meme, that Democrats are actually repeating it now.
In the last 4 weeks there have been over 200 comments here on DKos - calling Obama a flip-flopper. Sure, some of those comments may be made in response to those who have made the claim, but look at the list of them - read a few - and you'll find that a lot of them are serious. This is just on DKos. Many other so-called liberal blogs are propagating this right wing frame.
Let's look at a few of the issues on which Obama has been accused of flip-flopping.
Obama on Iraq:
Bringing Our Troops Home
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
Obama has reiterated this point since he started running in the primary. You can read quotes from Sept. 2007 through June 2008 here.
Here's a time-line of Obama's positions on Iraq:
As a candidate for the United States Senate in 2002, Obama put his political career on the line to oppose going to war in Iraq, and warned of "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences." Obama has been a consistent, principled and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq.
* In 2003 and 2004, he spoke out against the war on the campaign trail;
* In 2005, he called for a phased withdrawal of our troops;
* In 2006, he called for a timetable to remove our troops, a political solution within Iraq, and aggressive diplomacy with all of Iraq’s neighbors;
* In January 2007, he introduced legislation in the Senate to remove all of our combat troops from Iraq by March 2008.
* In September 2007, he laid out a detailed plan for how he will end the war as president.
JedReport had a great diary, Barack-Iraq-Gate: Anatomy of a Media Smear [vid], about Obama's position on Iraq - and the media's attempt to call this a flip-flop.
Obama's position on Iraq has been the same since the war in Iraq started. No flip-flop exists.
Obama on FISA:
Obama comes out against a proposed FISA bill granting retroactive immunity, October 18, 2007:
Obama: "It is time to restore oversight and accountability in the FISA program, and this proposal -- with an unprecedented grant of retroactive immunity -- is not the place to start."
And then this June - Obama issues a different statement on the currently proposed "compromise" bill. I'll note here that I disagree with this bill. I don't think it should pass. I don't think Obama should vote for it. This issue will not make or break my support for Obama.
Here is a large chunk of the June statement:
"After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.
"Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance - making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.
"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives - and the liberty - of the American people."
And then, of course, there is Obama's statement on FISA from this past Thursday.
I'm sure most of you have read the whole statement - you can read it at that link above. I'd like to excerpt two important sections:
The ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool, and I'm persuaded that it is necessary to keep the American people safe -- particularly since certain electronic surveillance orders will begin to expire later this summer. Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise. I do so with the firm intention -- once I’m sworn in as President -- to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.
Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's ok. But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have. After all, the choice in this election could not be clearer. Whether it is the economy, foreign policy, or the Supreme Court, my opponent has embraced the failed course of the last eight years, while I want to take this country in a new direction. Make no mistake: if John McCain is elected, the fundamental direction of this country that we love will not change. But if we come together, we have an historic opportunity to chart a new course, a better course.
Many of you view these more recent two statements as a flip-flop of Obama's position on FISA. I don't call it that. From the first time he commented on FISA, Obama stated that he opposed retroactive immunity for telecoms. He is still saying that today. From the first time he commented on FISA, Obama stated that we needed to restore oversight and accountability to FISA.
Obama makes it pretty clear that security is important to him. He believes that the FISA court should be allowed to continue. He has stated that he will work to remove the immunity provision, and he's said that oversight and accountability are very important to him.
This isn't a flip-flop. Obama's position on FISA is the same now as it was then. Obama is simply stating a willingness to compromise on a bill in order to preserve some of what he wanted now, and when he wins and takes office in January he will be in the position to fix the problems with FISA. This is nuance. This is gradually moving closer to goals.
In May 2007 The New Yorker featured an article about Obama, The Conciliator. This is one of those articles that I read where I knew I'd made the right choice in a candidate - one where I knew that I had picked the candidate that America needed - right now. The following paragraph applies to the FISA decision Obama has made:
Obama has staked his candidacy on union—on bringing together two halves of America that are profoundly divided, and by associating himself with Lincoln—and he knows what both of those things mean. He calls America’s founding a "grand compromise": compromise, for him, is not an eroding of principle for the sake of getting something done but a principle in itself—the certainty of uncertainty, the fundament of union. "I would save the Union," Lincoln wrote, in a letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." "I like to believe that for Lincoln it was never a matter of abandoning conviction for the sake of expediency," Obama writes. "Rather . . . that we must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty that God is on our side."
Obama on choice:
Obama's website has an incredibly long section regarding his position on issues that relate to women. One of those issues is Reproductive choice. Obama has two statements there related to choice (there's more in his voting record as well as his Blueprint for Change booklet - you can download the pdf on the Issues page of his website).
Here's what Obama has to say:
Supports a Woman’s Right to Choose:
Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.
Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy:
Barack Obama is an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
Throughout his political career he has consistently voted to protect a woman's right to choose. He has also consistently voted to promote comprehensive sex education. Obama received a 100% rating from every pro-choice group in the United States for every year he has been in office.
Obama gave a speech to Planned Parenthood on 7/17/07 and said one of the first things he'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act - here's the video:
Obama restated this same promise to support the Freedom of Choice Act in his Roe anniversary speech on January 22, 2008.
Last week Obama did an interview with Relevant magazine. This is a Christian magazine. In this interview he tried to clarify his position on late-term abortions. I do believe he made his position a bit muddier by using language that wasn't concise, but he has since re-clarified his position and I feel comfortable with it. There are several reasons why I feel comfortable with it - and I'll explain them below, but first I'd like to quote from the article because I believe that it is important to show you exactly what he said about late-term abortion.
In response to a question that asked him to clarify his position on late term abortions, Obama said:
I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that "mental distress" qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.
This statement was reclarified here:
Reporter: You said that mental distress shouldn't be a reason for late-term abortion?
Obama: "My only point is this -- historically I have been a strong believer in a women's right to choose with her doctor, her pastor and her family. And it is ..I have consistently been saying that you have to have a health exception on many significant restrictions or bans on abortions including late-term abortions.
In the past there has been some fear on the part of people who, not only people who are anti-abortion, but people who may be in the middle, that that means that if a woman just doesn't feel good then that is an exception. That's never been the case.
I don't think that is how it has been interpreted. My only point is that in an area like partial-birth abortion having a mental, having a health exception can be defined rigorously. It can be defined through physical health, It can be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases. It is not just a matter of feeling blue. I don't think that's how pro-choice folks have interpreted it. I don't think that's how the courts have interpreted it and I think that's important to emphasize and understand."
In other words...Obama is making clear to the Christian right that he doesn't think it's okay for a woman to say, "Gee, I'm feeling a bit down today in my 8th month...and I think I'll go get an abortion." Mental distress and mental health illnesses are not the same things.
It may seem insane or silly to you that he would need to say that. We all know here that this is not how late-term abortion works. BUT - I have dealt with anti-choice folks for a LONG time now and one of the things that many of them believe is that Democrats want that. I don't blame Obama for wanting to distance himself from that.
Now...having said that - I personally believe that any woman should be able to have an abortion any time she wants it for whatever reason she wants it. That's my personal belief. I may not agree with her choice, but it isn't my business one way or another. It's HER choice. Period. Do I believe that my personal level of "choice" should be the law of the land? Well sure...but it isn't. The Supreme Court has set out restrictions in several ways - even noting that late-term abortions can be banned by states as long as there is an exception for the life of the mother. So why am I comfortable with Obama's position on reproductive choice if I don't entirely agree with it?
A few reasons...
- Obama or McCain. One is pro-choice and respects women. One is anti-choice and called his wife a cunt and a trollop.
- Obama supports the Freedom of Choice Act.
- Obama supports comprehensive sex education.
- The Republicans will NEVER ever ever ever ever ever ever propose a bill that would ban late-term abortion that provides the necessary exceptions for the health of the mother in any state. They simply will not do this. Doing that would kill the issue for them. That isn't in their best interests and never has been.
During the primary, Obama's position on choice became a point of debate. The Clinton camp claimed that Obama wasn't as pro-choice as he claimed he was. The result was this endorsement switch. Lorna Brett Howard moved from Hillary's camp over to Obama's camp.
The interview with Relevant magazine doesn't present Obama changing his position on choice - his position has been the same since day one. He has always been solidly pro-choice and his votes have always reflected that.
Obama on Welfare Reform:
On July 1st, ABC claimed that Obama changed his position on Welfare reform (among other things) --
Obama's transformation from critic to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, the Obama campaign has altered its stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.'s, sweeping gun ban.
The shift in Obama's rhetoric on welfare reform has proceeded in stages. When former President Bill Clinton was poised to sign welfare reform while running for re-election in 1996, Obama called it "disturbing." A decade later, as an underdog running for president against Clinton's wife, he spent 2007 avoiding the subject. By the time Obama emerged as the Democratic frontrunner in the spring of 2008, he began leaving the impression that he was for it all along.
Here's the ad in which they claim he's changed his position:
Those of you who read Fact Check regularly have already read this detailed history of Obama's positions on welfare.
Here's just part of one quote found on the Fact Check page:
Obama: Conservatives and Bill Clinton Were Right That Welfare As it Was Structured Was Wrong to Detach Income from Work. "We should also acknowledge that conservatives--and Bill Clinton--were right about welfare as it was previously structured: By detaching income from work, and by making no demands on welfare recipients other than a tolerance for intrusive bureaucracy and an assurance that no man lived in the same house as the mother of his children, the old AFDC program sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self-respect. Any strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare--not only because work provides independence and income but also because work provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people's lives. But we also need to admit that work alone does not ensure that people can rise out of poverty."
That excerpt can be found in The Audacity of Hope on page 256. I urge you to go read more to see just how ABC has attempted to manipulate this story - a story that I've seen repeated here on Daily Kos.
I consider primary time to be of utmost importance in the election process - it's not just that the majority of primary voters choose our nominee - it's that time we have where we make our own personal choices about who we're going to support. When I sit down to make that choice during a primary...I take the process pretty seriously. I look at every candidate. I read about all their positions. I look at their voting records. I listen to or read as many speeches as I have time for. I consider it a very serious responsibility to educate myself - and then I make a choice based on all that information.
All the way back in 2004 - the moment Obama finished his speech at the Convention, I knew that if he ran for President some day, I would support him. When he announced his choice to run in 2007 - I wasn't sure THIS would be that time. I wanted Gore to run. I was excited about Hillary. I liked a lot of what John Edwards was saying. I thought Richardson had some interesting ideas. Dodd could be pretty fiery when he wanted to...and of course, no matter what "match up" quiz I'd take - I would always be "most matched" with Kucinich.
After a few months I chose to support Barack Obama. I chose to have faith in a Presidential candidate. I looked at Obama and I saw hope. I saw a different way of doing things. I didn't see a candidate promising instant gratification when he knew that wasn't possible - even if that meant he might lose. I saw a man who was willing to be honest. I decided to trust Barack Obama.
Now, you may not have supported Obama in the primary. You may not have trusted him then...you may not trust him now. That's fine. I'm not asking you to trust him. I'm asking you to realize that when you repeat Republican talking points - the smear that Obama is a "flip-flopper" - you are not helping to elect him. Instead, you are helping Republicans.
Americans have two choices before them - Obama or McCain. There is a flip-flopper in this race. His name is John McCain. I'm not sure why, but the liberal blogosphere hasn't spent too much time talking about John McCain and his flip-flops. The media hasn't either. And McCain certainly isn't going to call himself a flip-flopper. That's our job.
Instead of doing our job - instead of framing the Republican nominee as the lying piece of shit that he is - many people here are helping the Republicans frame our own nominee as a flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected.
Some days I wonder why I bother to log in here anymore. Some days I wonder why I'm bothering to attend Netroots Nation. Some days I wonder if there are enough of us activists out there - registering voters, planning events, making connections with new volunteers, etc. Will we be able to do enough to combat the Republicans this November and elect Barack Obama? I sure hope so. The alternative is horrific.
But I know one thing - we shouldn't have to combat Democrats to elect a Democrat. Circular firing squads have been contributing to Dem losses for a long time now. We can let that continue, or we can look around and realize that it's General Election time - and we have two choices - and one of those agrees with most of us on most issues. The other doesn't agree with any of us on any issues.
I am done defending Democrats here. This is the last time I will do it. I shouldn't HAVE to do it. My focus from this point on is on John McCain.
Note: I am not asking you to abstain from criticizing Obama. I'm not asking you to keep your disagreements to yourself. Obama himself welcomed them. There are several issues where I find disagreement with Obama - gay marriage, FISA, clean coal, and a few others. I absolutely disagree with him on these things. I want him to change his positions. I want him to move further to the left on those issues. I've made that position known to him on several occasions. So no, I don't have a problem with disagreements. I don't have a problem with criticism. I have a problem with Republican talking points being repeated by Democrats - and you ought to as well.
And yeah...I'm sure some of you will simply say that I'm just being paranoid...or that I'm reenacting some chicken little story. That's fine. We don't have to agree, but I would like to remind you that in 2004 we thought Kerry had the election won. We thought there was no way he could lose...and then he lost. I'm seeing the same mistakes we made then reenacted here now. I'd like to be wrong, but we won't know whether I am until November.
UPDATE: Know your candidate so you can properly defend him. Please see droogie6655321's excellent recommended diary, Don't be a dummy. Know Obama's accomplishments as Senator.