The Minds They Are A-Changin

I was for it before I was against it.

Remember how that line was used so effective in the 2004 election to pummel Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for having changed his positions on an issue?

Now it is Rep. Paul Ryan's turn.  The Wisconsin congressman, who is running for vice president this year and hedging his bets by running also for reelection to his House seat, is the one being accused of  flip-flopping.

Until this week Ryan had been opposed to all abortions, not even for rape or incest, but starting this week he's willing to make those exceptions because that's the position of the man at the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney.  However the platform they'll be running on takes the Ryan position, not Romney's. 

Ryan voted against the 2009 stimulus bill but that didn't stop him from pressuring the Obama administration for some of that money on behalf of companies in his district.  He initially denied making the request but when confronted with letters he'd sent to the Energy Department he tried to shrug it off as routine "constituent service requests."

Ryan also has rejected calls to crack down on China's currency manipulation — until this week.  Now that Romney has been criticizing Obama for essentially the same thing, Ryan has made a 180.

Romney has a long record of being on both sides of some issues, including abortion, gay rights, gun policy, no-tax pledges, global warming, stem cell research and health care reform. Some were changes of heart, others cynical expediencies as he shifted from Massachusetts moderate to arch conservative.  While Democrats are trying to make a big issue of those shifts, Republicans are reminding voters of what they call Barack Obama's list of broken promises.

Candidates up and down the line in both parties are vulnerable to such charges. Ryan has a bigger problem than Romney because as a seven-term member of Congress he has cast thousands of votes and each one is open to scrutiny, interpretation and misrepresentation by the opposition. 

By the way, there are legitimate reasons for lawmakers like Ryan or former senators Obama and Biden to appear to have voted both ways on the same issue.  The biggest is that bills often change substantively along the route from introduction through committees and on to the floor.

But that can be too complicated for 30-second sound bites and the short attention span of most voters, who aren't really interested in intelligent discussions of policy differences and already are showing signs of being weary these never-ending and increasingly negative campaigns.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.