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September 21, 2004

Flip off

Karl Rove is half right: "The guy seems to have this belief that every time he speaks it's a blank sheet, and he doesn't have to worry about contradictory things he's said in recent days, weeks and months."

Now he's right that John Kerry contradicts himself, but you can hardly say he doesn't worry about it. In fact, his campaign has been so troubled in large part because from the start he was terrified of being called a flip-flopper. Instead of simply stating his current position on something, he tries to be very careful to make sure it doesn't literally contradict what he said before -- with the inevitable result that his language is tortured and indecisive, and he only ends up highlighting the differences between his current and former statements.

The guy who really believes he has a blank sheet every time he speaks is George W. Bush. Bush flip flops repeatedly but each time, he fully commits to what he's saying, trusting -- perceptively -- that as long as he sounds sure of himself, people won't care that his position has, let's be generous, evolved.

This is what Kerry should have been doing all along (from a purely strategic standpoint at least; obviously genuine consistency is preferable).

"The president should never have gone to war in Iraq." "But didn't you support the war at the time?" "The president should never have gone to war. How much more clear can I be?"

Sure, reporters will dig up an old quote, but as long as Kerry refuses to address it they'll eventually give up -- and even if they don't, the public won't listen. That's how Bush was able to structure his entire convention around his post-9/11 promise to get "the people who did this," when in fact he let those people get away so that he could avoid the difficult work of nation building in Afghanistan and pursue an unrelated campaign in Iraq.

I'll bet Kerry could pull it off even now. Listen to Karl Rove, John: don't worry about contradictory things you've said in the past. Say what you mean right now, and voters just might respond.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

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