THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joan Vennochi

Obama and McCain - flip-flop, flip-flop

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / June 22, 2008

THERE IS no "straight talk." There isn't "a different kind of politics." There are just two men who really want to be president.

In their zeal to win the White House, Barack Obama and John McCain already own enough flip-flops to hang out comfortably in Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," right next to John Kerry and Mitt Romney.

Obama, a longtime advocate for public financing, just announced that he would opt out of the public financing system for the general election. In a statement of breathtaking chutzpah, Obama blamed his decision on Republicans. Meanwhile, he's the one with the fund-raising advantage, including pivotal backing from MoveOn.org, which isn't bound by public spending limits and is already running an anti-McCain ad.

The Democrat who promises change is demonstrating the capacity to embrace an age-old political premise: cave, when necessary.

Obama did it most famously with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He was against cutting the controversial minister loose until he was for it. He was also against wearing a flag pin as a knee-jerk symbol of patriotism until he put one on as a knee-jerk symbol of patriotism.

Striking at the heart of Obama's message of inclusion, campaign volunteers last week barred two Muslim women from sitting behind the podium at an Obama rally in Detroit. They apparently wanted to prevent the women's headscarves from appearing in photographs with the candidate.The campaign apologized for the volunteers' actions, saying "This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together."

On foreign policy, Obama went from stating that he would meet, without preconditions, with the president of Iran, to saying he would meet "with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing - if and only if - it can advance the interests of the United States."

On personnel, Obama put James A. Johnson, chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association, in charge of vetting potential running mates. Then he quickly dropped him in the aftermath of news reports that Johnson received favorable deals on loans from the same mortgage lender that Obama criticized.

For Obama, it all adds up to politics as very usual. But, McCain's flip-flops represent an even bigger affront to the straight talk he promises voters.

As a presidential candidate, McCain now opposes his own immigration plan. He backs the Bush tax cuts he once opposed with contempt. While McCain presents himself as a maverick feared by lobbyists and special interests, his campaign has many ties to both and includes staffers who were once lobbyists.

Last week, the Republican called for lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling, a dramatic contrast with his strong support for upholding the moratorium during his 2000 bid for the Republican nomination.

A former prisoner of war, who suffered torture in Vietnam, McCain has called for the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay to be closed and for torture to be banned. Last week, he criticized the US Supreme Court for "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country" after the court ruled that detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in US courts.

McCain has also been trying to distance himself even further from an earlier comment that it "would be fine with me" if the US military stayed in Iraq "for a hundred years," a remark he qualified at the time with the condition that Americans were not being injured or killed.

Meanwhile, McCain is blasting Obama for opting out of public financing. But as Media Matters for America reports, McCain is being asked by federal elections officials to show that he did not use the promise of public money to obtain a $4 million loan to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign. Doing so would be disingenuous from a candidate who is routinely described as a champion of campaign finance reform.

Perhaps its best to get past the marketing slogans, sooner rather that later. Let voters strip illusion from reality in this campaign.

As they are swiftly finding out, principle is the first casualty in the war to be president.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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