by bowiegeek, Thu Jan 31, 2008 at 08:01:54 PM EST
The biggest irony in American presidential politics is that during elections we laud someone for having a firm, unwavering, axiomatic position on a topic because it means that that person is dependable and firm enough to hold the highest office in the land. But in the day to day of this person's term, we criticize him or her for not changing positions and bending his or her policy to the will of the American people.
John Kerry flip-flopped in 2004 over the most minor topic. We ended up with someone who didn't. And what we continued to get is a president who has no intention of listening to the will of the American people and ratcheting down our involvement in Iraq.
In a lot of ways, John McCain is a monster that we created. I'm reminded of Arianna Huffington's ebullient praise in 2004 and 2005 for his judgment, "straight-talk" and willingness to go against party leadership. But his resolve was deeper than that: he went against the grain because it appears to be in his nature to stake out a position and ride it to its grave. Every four years, that's exactly what we want.
So tonight during the debate in an election year that is once again about who's the most consistent, it seems only natural that Barack Obama would snipe at Hillary Clinton for being "for" drivers licenses for undocumented workers before she was against it. (Clearly that is a lie because she was asked if she endorses Spitzer's attempt to provide tiered license privileges to undocumented workers-- her answer was No, but that "it made sense" to her why he would do that.) And the damage was done, because it carries a stigma in the same kind of race where McCain gains political capital on his nonsensical belief that because he was for the war, he must consistently be for war forever until it's "complete."
Of course, I understand our inclination to want to make a clean break and start over what has been consistently an overridingly gloomy political outcome the past seven years. Barack Obama's main narrative pivots on the notion that because he had a position on Iraq that's popular today and that he's had other positions in his brief tenure as a U.S. Senator that he's not had to re-evaluate, that he must be consistent and consistently right. Bill Richardson was right to denounce that kind of attitude as "holier-than-thou" in a previous debate, because in reality nothing could be further from the truth than the signals Obama has cast: every politician is a real person with real flaws, real drawbacks, and real issues.
And Hillary Clinton is one of those real people having been on the scene for nearly 20 years: she has fantastic qualities and drawbacks, victories and failures to show for her experience- just as John Edwards did. But she is a politician that we know. She is a public servant who has delivered. She is a Democrat who has earned the begrudged respect of people from across the aisle.
When are we going to reject the politics of "down with the ship" and say with resolve that it's okay for someone to have one position and then change course? When are we going to reject the politics of "anyone previously well known is old news"? When are we going to realize that the people whose past failures are plain as the eyes can see are not damaging to that person's credibility, but more likely evidence of future lessons learned?
I reject the notion that someone whose mistakes are ahead of him in his short tenure in national politics makes him a better candidate with better judgment or even likely to be right on day one. John Edwards was no less a candidate for having voted for trade deals in the past and then reacting to the evidence he saw in order to change course. And Hillary Clinton is no less a candidate for voting to give authorization (the terms of which had mutually-agreed-upon conditions) to use force in defense of the United States going on to say as she has repeatedly that if she had it do over, she wouldn't have done it. If either Edwards or Clinton were President at the time, there wouldn't have been a war. Their judgment is fine.
And it's not enough to inspire confidence that a position one took and which he continues to take is enough to ensure that a candidate is reasonable and wise enough to be POTUS. The politics of "Right from the Start" is the politics of John McCain: take a position and ride it to the end. It's time to elect someone with experience for a change-- experience taking stumbles and being gracious enough to get back up and chart a new course.