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The New Yorker

Credit Illustration by Tom Bachtell

One of the World Wide Web’s most distinguished organs of fake news, the Borowitz Report, leads its current issue with this flash:

The liberal blogosphere was aflame today with new accusations that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) is trying to win the 2008 presidential election.

Except that sometimes it’s hard to tell fake from real. These sentiments, for example, are from actual blogs:

If Obama believes the BS he said about the FISA Capitulation bill, then he is not fit to be President.

He is turning on every major issue and I am not going to vote for him. From here on out, the netroots should refuse to donate to any Democratic nominee, including Barack Obama.

Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama, as Ryan Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

It was inevitable that the boggier reaches of the blogosphere would eventually smell betrayal. In contrast, what bloggers call the MSM—the mainstream media—seldom trades in the currency of moral indignation. Although the better newspapers have regular features devoted to evaluating the candidates’ proposals for workability, the MSM generally eschews value judgments about the merits. The MSM—especially the cable-news intravenous drip—prefers flip-flops.

Obama has been providing plenty of plastic for the flip-flop factories with the adjustments he’s been making as he retools his campaign for the general election. Under headlines like “IN CAMPAIGN, ONE MAN’S PRAGMATISM IS ANOTHER’S FLIP-FLOPPING,” the big papers have been assembling quite a list of matters on which the candidate has “changed his position,” including Iraq, abortion rights, federal aid to faith-based social services, capital punishment, gun control, public financing of campaigns, and wiretapping. Most of them are mere shifts of emphasis, some are marginal tweaks, and a few are either substantive or nonexistent. Let’s do a quick tour d’horizon.

On July 3rd, Obama remarked to reporters, vis-à-vis his projected visit to Iraq, that he will “continue to refine” his policies in light of what he learns there. The flip-flop frenzy exploded so quickly that Obama called a second press conference that same day in an effort to tamp it down, saying that while he “would be a poor commander-in-chief” if he “didn’t take facts on the ground into account,” his intention to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq within sixteen months of his Inauguration—which is to say less than two years from now—remains unchanged. Flip-flop category: marginal tweak.

The same week, Obama said he didn’t think that “mental distress” alone was sufficient justification for a late-term abortion, prompting the president of the National Organization for Women to rebuke him for feeding the perception that women seek abortions because they’re “having a bad-hair day.” In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama had written that

the willingness of even the most ardent prochoice advocates to accept some restrictions on late-term abortion marks a recognition that a fetus is more than a body part and that society has some interest in its development.

The leading reproductive-rights group, NARal Pro-Choice America, defended him, pointing out that his views are fully consistent with Roe v. Wade. Flip-flop category: nonexistent.

“Look, you’re not the only one with problems.”

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