"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
So said John Kerry, in Huntington, W.V., on Tuesday, March 16, 2004, two weeks after he had clinched the Democratic presidential nomination by carrying every state but Vermont in the Super Tuesday primaries.
Kerry was responding to an ad run by George W. Bush's campaign criticizing his 2003 vote against an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for the Iraq war. Two days later, the Bush campaign ran an edited version of the ad with the "actually did vote" footage added.
Kerry had a defensible position. He did actually vote for a Democratic version of the supplemental that included a provision raising tax rates on high earners. He voted against the Republican version without the tax increase, knowing it would pass. The troops would not go unfunded.
But those 14 words were repeated again and again by the Bush campaign in the next eight months. Kerry was labeled a flip-flopper, and delegates at the Republican National Convention brandished flip-flops for the TV cameras one night.
The "did actually vote" sentence hurt Kerry because it underlined a critical weakness.
Like most other Senate Democrats, including Kerry's vice presidential nominee John Edwards, Kerry had voted for the Iraq War resolution in October 2002. But when things started going badly in Iraq in 2003, and after consistent Iraq War opponent Howard Dean shot to the top in Democratic polls, Kerry like many other Democrats said the war was a mistake and should be ended.
Thus the statement met columnist Michael Kinsley's famous definition of a gaffe: when a politician tells the truth. Kerry supported the war, then opposed the war. Flip, flop.
Fast forward to Monday, March 26, 2012, in Seoul, South Korea. Barack Obama was talking to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He was evidently unaware that his comments were audible via an open microphone.
"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space," Obama said. "Yeah, I understand, I understand your message about space. Space for you," the Russian replied.
"This is my last election," Obama said. "After my election, I have more flexibility."
"I understand," Medvedev said. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir." The reference is to Vladmir Putin, the real ruler of Russia during Medvedev's Potemkin presidency.
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