Flipper for President

Think calling Bush an ape is a cheap shot? Consider the
‘Hipublicans’ — hip, young Republicans — latest wisecrack.
Criticizing presumed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s
reputation for shifting his position in response to public opinion,
they’ve nicknamed him, ‘Flipper.’ A small group of the young
Republican protestors taunted attendees to Kerry’s recent speaking
engagement at the Minneapolis Convention Center by wagging giant
inflatable porpoises and thong sandals, along with signs like my
personal favorite: ‘No Position Left Behind.’ The demonstration
likely made many Kerry fans’ blood boil, and who could blame them?
— mudslinging is never pretty. But fairness aside, do Kerry’s
opponents have a point?

Critics often point to Kerry’s views on the Vietnam War as the
definitive example of his waffling ways. Undoubtedly, Kerry’s
transformation from soldier to activist seems a drastic one. He
enlisted in Officer’s Candidate School when it was still considered
noble to do so, and after four months of service, at a time when
the war had become the object of mass disapproval, threw his weight
behind Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But Kerry’s doubts about
the war hardly came out of the blue. In fact, even his graduation
speech foreshadowed his later activism, ‘We have not really lost
the desire to serve,’ he said of himself and his classmates, ‘We
question the very roots of what we are serving.’ According to
Michael Kranish, Brian C. Mooney, and Nina J. Easton in their new
book, John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe
Reporters Who Know Him Best
, ‘Kerry’s critique of American
policy stood out at a time when there were few protests, and most
of the public assumed Vietnam would be a winnable war, producing a
fresh crop of military heroes.’

That’s not to say that Kerry’s politics are free from
inconsistencies. Criticism of Kerry’s tap-dancing is based on his
record of ‘bold proclamations — such as his 1992 condemnation of
affirmative action and the welfare system — that were dropped when
they didn’t yield political firepower.’ And who could forget his
infamous 2002 vote for the resolution that made possible the
internationally unsanctioned invasion of Iraq; a decision that
seems to fly in the face of his harsh criticism of Bush’s foreign
policy.

While Kerry’s new nickname rightfully takes issue with his
tendency to send mixed messages, it also points out a distinction
between his style of leadership and that of President Bush. Loyal
supporters of the incumbent, and even some swing voters, applaud
Bush’s ability to choose one clear message and stick with it.
Citing his response to 9/11, they claim that the rigidity of his
rhetoric communicates strength to potential terrorists. Add to that
the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ resolve behind his decision-making,
like his insistence upon preemptive war in Iraq, despite
overwhelming international protest. And his lack of explanation in
the April 13 press conference when asked in a number of ways if he
made any errors in judgment in the events leading up to the 9/11
attacks. According to President Bush’s definition of leadership,
such admissions would convey weakness. But while Bush’s supporters
may consider his stubbornness vital to the War on Terror and
America’s status as a force to be reckoned with, it remains
antithetical to the very essence of what he serves: a
democracy.

In an April press conference, Bush boasted, ‘As to whether or
not I make decisions based upon polls, I don’t.’ Meanwhile, John
Kerry continues to field criticism for his tendency to submit to
popular opinion. Unfortunately, Kerry’s reputation makes for great
Republican protest slogans, but it could also mean good news: that
as the next leader of our democracy, he would be open to
suggestions.

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UTNE
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