Flipfloppery: Political Inconsistency Pt 2
This is part two in my blog series on inconsistency in politics. The previous entry can be found here, and it deals with John McCain’s inconsistency on a wide range of issues.
With Obama, we have a different kind of inconsistency going on. Two kinds, actually. The first is a more nuanced version, the sort of inconsistency you might expect in either a deep thinker who understands that issues aren’t really black and white, but come in a variety of shades of grey. The second kind is with the expectations of his base, the ones who brung him to the dance (pardon the word brung, but it is the correct spelling when used in the colloquialism in which I found it!)
What do I mean by nuanced? He says yes unequivocally to universal healthcare, but as to the details, sometimes yes on single payer, other times no. He says yes unequivocally to leaving Iraq and ending the war as soon as possible, but says that his position on how and when is subject to ‘refinement’ based on changes on the ground.
Obama’s seeming changes in direction are harder to pin down and interpret than McCain’s, in large part because they are so unexpected. When McCain changes his position, you get the sense of who he is trying to appeal to with the change. But with Obama, it’s just not that obvious. Consider these examples.
Take gun control (please!)
Recently, Obama offered his support to gun-ownership, though his base wants to restrict it. And people already unlikely to vote for him are unlikely to be persuaded by this.
Wiretapping and Privacy
Yes to wiretapping and immunity for phone companies who participate in it, though his base abhors it. And people who might find this appealing are already persuaded to vote for his opponent.
Yes to cutting corporate taxes, while his base wants the opposite. How will this gain him votes?
Obama has been for local handgun bans in the past, for corporate taxes in the past, against warrantless wiretapping in the past. He does seem to have changed his opinion, but why on these issues? How would this increase his appeal without costing him votes from his base? It doesn’t add up as an intelligent political calculation. Which leaves me wondering, what else could it mean?
Obama had a problem with the Supreme Court’s decision on outlawing the death penalty for child rapists, but he is anti-capital punishment. Hmm? Is it just me, or is the room spinning again? He said yes to public financing of campaigns, until he could afford to say no. And that’s where it stands now. But just where does Obama stand? And where will he stand when he occupies the Oval Office? Is the ‘change we can believe in’ the kind of change that’s subject to change? How can we then believe in it?
I read recently in a Washington Post column that Obama is throwing flak into the air to make it hard for his opponents to hit him. He’s confusing the heck out them, and sailing right through their misfires. Hmmm. Now that’s an interesting approach. Only it’s inconsistent with the fact that McCain is the former pilot, not Obama. McCain’s flipfloppiness is more predictable and obvious, and thus an easier target for opponents.
Everyone knows that in primary campaigns, the common idea is that you pitch to the extremes of your party, but in the main event you need a broader appeal. The expectation is that voters are a forgiving lot when it comes to which way you tack as the big moment of the election draws near. As long as they know who you are, or think they know what you’re all about, your position on this that or the other is of less relevance and consequence.
The first problem for Obama is that he has represented himself as the champion of a new style of politics. If he comes across as typical, that makes this representation of himself seem false. If he’s hard to pin down in your mind, it’s harder to stand up for him at the ballot box. And the big danger of moving against your base in key areas, is that they may decide to sit the election out rather than support someone who has betrayed their sense of who he is.
Already, his base has been challenged to deal with the mixed message of his outspoken patriotism and the reverse patriotism of his preacher. Is this the source of his new found support for giving government funds to faith based groups to fight poverty? Because his base thinks that’s diametrically opposed to the religion-neutral national ideal that they hold to be self evident.
The second problem for Obama is that any inconsistency at all provides ammunition to his opponents, and makes him appear the political amateur, indecisive and inexperienced. If Republican campaigns of the past 40 years are predictive of the future, anything he says can and will be used against him if at all possible.
Years ago, my friend Scott McKeown told me something that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Never fall in love with a politician, they’ll always break your heart.” In this campaign, I confess to having a great deal of skepticism about everything I’m hearing and seeing. I know that these candidates have handlers and persuasion strategies, and I know that the truth is out there, but it’s not obvious to me that anyone is leading with it.
Next time, (I swear, you can count on me for this) I’ll write about the cost of inconsistency in persuasion. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on candidates tacking away from their base in order to broaden their appeal.
P.S. The Communication Tune Up Teleseminar Series is coming up fast, at the end of this month. We still have two valuable (yet FREE) teleseminars between now and then. Visit CommunicationTuneUp.com and click on the preview button for more information.