The Washington Post ran a story today about the frequency with which backtracking has become the rule and not the exception this campaign season.

Say what? The 2008 presidential campaign theme could be “Oops! What I meant was …”

Just about every Republican and Democrat has flubbed an answer to a question or made a borderline inappropriate comment _ some so uncomfortable they make you cringe _ only to take back the remarks or seek to clarify them later when under fire.

This month alone, Republican Mitt Romney backtracked from a comment about his sons’ lack of military service. Rival Rudy Giuliani retreated from his suggestion that he spent as much time as Sept. 11 rescue workers at the ground zero site and was exposed to the same health risks. Democrat Bill Richardson stumbled over a question about whether homosexuality was a choice. All sought to skirt controversy by quickly explaining themselves.

It is happening so often, “you’d think it’s deliberate!” quipped G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

Joking aside, he said: “I don’t think you can go through this grueling ordeal and not find even the most seasoned politician who isn’t susceptible to misspeaking or a malaprop here or there. We’re seeing some genuinely real moments as these candidates are in the pressure cooker.”

Chalk up the glut of apologies and clarifications to changing times.

Candidates of all stripes have become extremely sensitive to the Internet era and painfully aware of video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube that allow images and audio to be posted online immediately.

(more…)

Many observers of the 2008 run for the White House view John McCain’s support of the Iraq War as the Senator’s biggest liability and why he could likely lose the Republican presidential nomination. However, in response to criticism that he was one of the war’s biggest supporters, McCain recently told Kiran Chetry, host of CNN’s American Morning, that, 

“…I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, ‘This is going to fail. We’ve got to change the strategy to the one we’re using now.'”

In the early stages of the war, however, McCain painted a fairly different picture on numerous occasions.

He told then Today Show host Katie Couric on March 20, 2003, “But I believe, Katie, that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Earlier that month on March 7th, he told ABC’s This Week, “I’m confident we’re on the right course. … I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we’ll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this.” Eight months later on October 31, McCain told CBS News, “I think the initial phases of it [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.”  On the September 21, 2004, McCain further asserted on MSNBC’s Hardball, “Have mistakes been made? Yes. But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.” And on December 8, 2005, McCain told The Hill, “I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren’t making progress, I’d be despondent.”

Senator McCain has claimed for some time that he was initially critical of President Bush. A February 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times article discussed that, “McCain said his criticism started three years ago ‘when I saw that this train wreck was taking place, and that we needed more troops, and we needed a different strategy.'” Click to read the full text of the article. (more…)

Factcheck.org wrote an intersting article today about yesterday’s Democratic AFL-CIO debate in which it discusses Senator Barack Obama’s backtracking of his statement that he would consider invading Pakisan.

“Sen. Obama rewrote history when he defended his controversial remarks about invading Pakistan if necessary to eliminate al Qaeda.

Obama: I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with [Pakistan’s President Pervez] Musharraf.

obama
    Scott Olson/Getty Images

That’s not exactly what he said. Obama is referring to an Aug. 1 policy address, in which he made no direct mention of working with Musharraf. Instead, he said he would “take out” al Qaeda if Musharraf failed to act.

Obama (Aug. 1): I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

That’s the only time Obama mentions Musharraf at all in the speech, as posted on his own campaign Web site.”

MSNBC’s David Shuster filed this report on Monday’s Hardball, which sums up Sunday’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa. Romey’s flip-flops were a big topic of discussion. Romney said, “I am pro-choice, and that is the truth….and I am tired of people that are holier than thow because they are pro-choice longer than I have.

The report goes on to discuss Romney’s contention “he has always been secretly pro-life” and regretted not being open about his true beliefs while governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.   

Schuster goes on to say, “The issue is whether Romey is a man of true beliefts, or if he will say anything to get elected.” 

Romney then accused Senator Barack Obama of inconsistency on foreign policy. “In one week he went from saying he’s to sit down for tea with our enemies to he’s going to bomb our allies. In one week he went from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove.” 

Given Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 connection and his departures (past and/or present) from G.O.P. dogma on issues like abortion and gun control, terrorism has been the central issue of his campaign so far.  Giuliani has so far largely neutralized questions about his actions in the hours and days following the World Trade Center attacks by repeatedly calling for aggressive offensive action against terrorist groups in order to head off more national tragedies.

 Until recently, Giuliani appeared determined to keep the issue of terrorism above the vicious political fray, rejecting attacks on President Clinton’s record of fighting terrorism as distracting and unhelpful.

[Last September] Giuliani defended Clinton’s record amid political bickering over which president — Clinton or George W. Bush — missed more opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don’t think he deserves it,” Giuliani said during a stop in Florida. “I don’t think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists — the Islamic fanatics — who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it.”

Giuliani’s rhetoric was markedly different Tuesday in comments delivered at Pat Robertson’s conservative christian Regent University, however, suggesting that former President Clinton failed to respond adequately to the 1993 WTC attack.

“Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993,” said the former New York mayor.

Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it “a big mistake” that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.

“The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond,” Giuliani said. “(Osama) bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it.”

In hindsight, Giuliani said, maybe it’s all clearer now, “but now is now, and there is no reason to go back into denial, and that is essentially what the Democratic candidates for president want to do: they want to go back, to put the country in reverse to the 1990s.”

Certainly Giuliani has every right to change his mind about Clinton’s record, but he conveniently failed to note that as Mayor of New York he may have underestimated the warning of the 1993 attack by locating his emergency command center  on the 23rd floor of a building in the WTC complex just across the street from the towers — a building that subsequently collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.

If a candidate wants to flip-flop and assign blame to somebody else, it pays to make sure one’s own record doesn’t invite charges of hypocrisy.

John Edwards is the most unabashedly populist candidate (so far…) in the race to November 2008, frequently utilizing class-infused rhetoric in his diagnoses of “two Americas.”

One of Edwards’ loftiest priorities is to eradicate poverty, and ostensibly to that end he founded the now-defunct Center for Promise and Opportunity in 2005.  The group’s rather vague mission statement read:

The Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans. CPO’s mission encompasses much more than just proposing ideas — it will lead efforts to build public support for change, and will serve as an incubator for solutions, conducting real-world trials.

CPO has three overarching goals. First, CPO is committed to exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life. Second, CPO will be an advocate for change, leading efforts to build support for policies and movements that will make America stronger. Third, CPO will work to prove the strength of its ideas, through pilot projects and partnerships.

As The New York Times reports, however, the organization’s day-to-day mission seems to have been sustaining John Edwards’ presidential ambitions.  This inconvenient truth seems to represent a flip-flop from CPO’s supposed purpose, which says nothing about promoting John Edwards.

The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of poverty the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “retreats and seminars” with foreign policy experts on Iraq and national security issues. Unlike the scholarship charity, donations to it were not tax deductible, and, significantly, it did not have to disclose its donors — as political action committees and other political fund-raising vehicles do — and there were no limits on the size of individual donations. [...]

Additionally, Edwards has gone a fair bit beyond the usual extent to which politicians funnel cash to their own interests — though it all appears to have been ambiguously legal.

[...] [I]t was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

(more…)

usiaseal.jpg 

The McCain campaign has noted a number of Mitt Romney’s policy/rhetorical shifts over the past few weeks, including such issues as stem cells, immigration, and abortion.  Now the ex-governor from Massachusetts, or at least his campaign staffers, have struck back against Senator McCain in an attempt to derail the so-called “straight talk express.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times’ “Caucus” political blog reports that the Romney camp is publicizing a discrepancy between McCain’s campaign rhetoric and his voting record regarding the U.S. Information Agency.  Until the public diplomacy agency’s duties were folded into the State Department in 1999, it sought to promote and publicize official U.S. policies and positions to foreign governments and populations.

Excerpts from a speech McCain was scheduled to deliver in Palm Beach, Florida find the Senator advocating reconstituting the Information Agency as an independent body.

“Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,’’ he will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained from the campaign.

As the Romney campaign points out, though, this opinion is apparently at odds with his Senate voting record:

The Romney campaign lost no time in pointing out to reporters that Mr. McCain voted for the 1998 bill that merged the United States Information Agency with the State Department – a bill that also authorized payments to the United Nations and authorized spending for the State Department.

While the Romney campaign is certainly correct that McCain’s new statement represents a direct departure from the bill for which he voted nearly ten years ago, the actual significance and relevance of this point requires a few caveats.

(more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.