Contemporary candidates may draw scornful fire for their embarrassing public flip-flops but Hillary Clinton’s outright contradictions on the Iraq War represent a far more shameful and serious problem.
A so-called flip-flop reflects a change of mind and, if you’ve shifted position in a more liberal direction (like Al Gore and Dick Gephardt going from anti-abortion to pro-choice on abortion), then the mainstream press will even hail your switch as evidence of “growth.”
A contradiction, on the other hand, indicates confusion rather than change; a wretched failure to take a clear position rather than the adoption of an altered position; and an effort to pander to the public by covering both sides of a given issue rather than shifting decisively from one point of view to the other.
Applying this important distinction to the current Presidential campaign, Mitt Romney most certainly flip-flopped on abortion --- dropping his self-described “pro-choice” position of 1994, and declaring himself outspokenly “pro-life” some two years ago. By the same token, John Edwards dramatically flip-flopped on the war, now regretting his vote nearly five years ago to authorize military action in Iraq and currently favoring a quick cut-off of funding.
Hillary Clinton on the other hand hasn’t so much changed her position on Iraq as she’s managed to muddy it, striking directly contradictory poses depending on her audience or, perhaps, her mood.
On the one hand, her promise to end the war has become a staple of her speeches on the stump. She regularly promises to “bring the troops home” – a ringing declaration that almost always wins applause. At the Democratic debate in New Hampshire on June 4th, Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked her to identify her “top priority in the first 100 days” of her new administration.
“Well, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home,” she answered without hesitation. “That would be the very first thing I would do.”
Of course, the audience cheered at her clarity and determination. But how would they have reacted to a New York Times front page headline from less than two months earlier, proclaiming: “CLINTON SAYS SOME G.I.’S IN IRAQ WOULD REMAIN IF SHE TOOK OFFICE.”
In their March 15th description of a half-hour interview in Clinton’s Senate office, Michael R. Gordon and Patrick Healy reported that “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton foresees a ‘remaining military as well as political mission’ in Iraq, and says that if elected president, she would keep a reduced military force there to fight Al Qaeda, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military.”