One Person's Flip Is Another's Flop

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and supporter of Barack Obama, on "Face The Nation." CBS

flip-flop (ˈflip-fläp) n, a sudden reversal (as of policy or strategy)

This past week both presidential candidates made remarkable reversals of long-held positions, opening themselves up to accusations of flip-flopping by the opposing campaigns.

But is changing one's position wisdom or opportunism? Practicality or pandering? It all depends on whom you ask.

This week, Sen. Barack Obama reversed his position on public financing, having previously said he would abide by limitations placed on funds raised and spent in the general election as part of his desire to reduce the influence of money from special interests in politics.

That changed with Thursday's announcement in which he said, "The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system."

By opting-out, he is now free to continue raising money from supporters who have already donated a record sum - nearly $300 million to date.

Actually, according to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Obama's new stand on public financing demonstrates not an act of opportunism but his ideals as a reformer.

"What Barack Obama has done is in the spirit of reform of the public financing system," Richardson told a disbelieving host Bob Schieffer.

Richardson pointed to statistics of Obama's fundraising prowess: 1.5 million contributors who have given an average of $88 each, not exactly high rollers. "Here we have somebody that takes no money from registered lobbyists, from PACs," Richardson said. "That's reform.

"But look at what Senator McCain has done: He started out with public financing in the primary, then he flip-flopped. Now he's back for public financing. He's had since February nearly five months with a private finance system. I'd say that he is the flip-flopper.

"Senator McCain is still taking that money; he's still taking lobbyists' money; he's taking PAC money," Richardson said. "That's not reform."

According to McCain adviser Carly Fiorina, however, Obama's change is to continue to make financial hay from his supporters. "Barack Obama has in fact said all along that he would accept public financing," she said. "And now he's changed his mind.

"What I find a little disingenuous, I must say, is to blame that on the fact that, for example, there are 527s gearing up to attack him."

Obama has said that money raised would help pay for fending off attacks by 527s - privately-financed organizations who work parallel with a candidate but are not restricted in fundraising - which spread anti-Obama messages.

"So I think the point is he raised a lot of money and he wants the opportunity to spend all that money," Fiorina said. "That's his right, but it clearly is a change in his position."

So when a politician changes a long-held position on a hot-button issue for which there are no practical reasons to switch - say, on expanding oil drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas - then the politician is guilty of political opportunism or pandering, no?

Well, no, according to Fiorina, at least when the candidate is John McCain, a longtime opponent of offshore drilling - who this week came out in support of opening up additional tracts of gas reserves off America's coastline.

When asked by Schieffer if that wasn't a flip-flop, too, she said McCain's change of policy - which has sparked outrage from coastal states over the potential threats to tourism and the environment - is actually a sign of leadership.

"Well, you know, I think a good leader is influenced by the facts on the ground, whether those facts are in Iraq or whether those facts are right here in the United States," she said. "And the reality is we have never before faced a situation where a gallon of gas is over $4 and is likely to remain over $4. We've never before faced a situation where the price of a barrel of oil has doubled in the last 12 months.

"So what John McCain has said is that we now need to take control of our own energy future. And that involves, among other things, tapping our own resources."

Fiorina said McCain's support for expanding offshore drilling, and consequently falling in line with President Bush, is "a matter of economic security, national security, and environmental security."

To which the former energy secretary said, the answer for securing the nation's energy future "is not drill, drill.

"I can tell you that every bipartisan administration has opposed offshore drilling for pristine reasons, the ecosystem," Richardson said, "but also the fact that you're not going to get any of this oil out offshore for the next 10 years, and prices won't go down until the year 2030, according to the Energy Information Agency.

"Senator McCain is basically following the policies of George Bush. We need to shift away from this drill, drill, drill philosophy into new sources of energy, conservation, fuel efficiency, dramatic efforts to develop new sources of energy, natural gas, maybe even look at nuclear, find ways that we can have carbon-clean coal technology, but not just drill into pristine areas like ANWR in Alaska, like offshore in California and Texas. Ask the people in those states if they're for that - they're not."

So for those keeping track at home, the tally of flip-flops this week: Obama 1, McCain 0 - or, Obama 0, McCain 1, depending on who's keeping score.



Read the full "Face the Nation" transcript here.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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