By Taylor Armerding
— Almost nothing is out of bounds in a political campaign. But at least one blob of mud ought to be, since it could be lobbed at both presidential candidates - the so-called flip-flop.
That is not what we've been hearing so far, from the supposedly neutral mainstream media. In recent interviews on "60 Minutes" with both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who was the only one to get prodded about his changing stance on issues? Romney, of course.
It's perfectly legitimate to ask Romney about abortion. He has sometimes declared his support for "choice" (that Orwellian term still amuses me, because of course it doesn't mean support for letting a woman choose anything except abortion), and these days he claims to be solidly pro-life.
But to say, or even imply, that this wavering on one of the most significant social issues of our time means Romney stands alone as a craven politician who has no core principles, who will "say anything to get elected" and who plays to the political winds is absurd.
He has plenty of company in President Obama. On abortion, Romney even has company from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal icon who accused him in a 1994 debate of being "multiple choice."
It's a shame Romney, or his campaign staff, hadn't done much homework on Kennedy, because he was also multiple choice on abortion. He was on the record as opposed to it as late as 1971.
In a letter to Catholic League member Tom Dennelly, which for some reason has never gotten much play in the past 40 years, he wrote: "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old."
What changed? Well, the "progressive" political winds did, and they blew Kennedy right over to the other side.
Meanwhile, the opportunities for "60 Minutes" to ask Obama about his political flips were many - almost too many to list here. It's not just the outlandish promises made and not kept - that the oceans would stop rising and the earth would heal or that unemployment would stay at less than 8 percent if his $830 billion stimulus was passed. It's not just about guaranteeing that stimulus money would be going to "shovel-ready" projects, and then acknowledging that there were almost no such projects.
It's not just campaigning on "Yes we can!" and then sending Bill Clinton to the convention floor last month to say, "Nobody could."
It is more about things that could legitimately be called core principles. Things like voting against increasing the debt limit, and then supporting raising it. Things like promising to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term and then presiding over trillion-dollar deficits - and blaming George W. Bush. Promising to take public financing for his 2008 campaign and then refusing it so he could raise and spend more than that would have allowed.
The president campaigned against the Patriot Act, but then supported its extension. He promised "the most transparent administration in history," and both parties know he never mentions that any more because it is a joke.
Obama said when he became president that he would close the prison in Guantanamo Bay. It is still open. He was a vocal critic of the Bush administration's military tribunals, but now he approves of them. He criticized Bush for the rendition of terror suspects, but has allowed them to continue.
And when it comes to core principles over social issues, Obama is right up there with Romney. While few point it out, the president has been multiple choice on gay marriage. In 1996, seeking his first term as a state senator in Illinois, he declared he was in favor of it.
Then, running for president in 2008, he said he opposed it. Then, a few months ago, after Vice President Joe Biden said he favored it, the president said he did too. But there was no explosion of disgust over Obama lacking core principles. He had just "evolved."
Finally, there is the blatant flip-flop-flip going on over the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed including Ambassador Steven Lynch.
For the better part of two weeks, Obama and his spokespeople insisted that the attack was a spontaneous outpouring of rage over a movie trailer that Muslims said insulted the prophet Mohammed - a trailer, by the way, that had been on YouTube for months.
It took two weeks for White House spokesman Jay Carney to flip to saying it was a terrorist attack (Gee, could Sept. 11 and the heavy weapons have been hints, perhaps?), but meanwhile, at the United Nations, the greatest orator in the world still couldn't seem to muster the courage to call it what it was.
And this, of course, is the administration that hammered Mitt Romney - who criticized an apology from the Egyptian embassy about the movie trailer - for speaking before he had all the facts.
Even the Washington Post, not a conservative voice, noted that the administration had worked to keep the focus on one storyline, "and then turn(ed) on a dime when it was no longer tenable."
Romney is an amateur when it comes to flip-flops, compared to Obama.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.