Progressive Chameleons
The difficulty of beating an opponent who doesn’t believe in much of anything.


Jim Geraghty

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton loudly and publicly oppose a troop surge in Iraq, then later privately admit that their positions didn’t reflect their actual views, but were meant to win support among Iowa primary voters. Then critics of the surge in Iraq proposed and implemented their own short-lived surge of additional troops in Afghanistan.

Obama argued that America had to get out of Iraq in order to fight the good war in Afghanistan — and then, once in office, made it increasingly clear he didn’t really want to fight that good war in Afghanistan.

Casualties in Afghanistan went way up, but loud anti-war protests were never heard after Obama took office.

The vast majority of Democrats are perfectly okay with a president having a “kill list” as long as that president is their guy. The presence of a presidential “kill list” is not considered in any way to be contradictory with receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee remains completely oblivious to the existence of the kill list, despite front-page New York Times stories on it. The people around Obama only started thinking about any limits or operating rules on the use of drones when they realized there was a chance Mitt Romney could become president.

Closing Guantanamo Bay was a pressing national priority — until it wasn’t. The deadline for the president’s promise passes, and no one on the Left gets all that upset about it.

They don’t really believe anything they say.

The Left exploded with fury about the Bush administration’s Patriot Act but have had very hit-and-miss objections to the NSA programs. In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, just 37 percent of Democrats said NSA surveillance programs were acceptable, while 61 percent said they were not. By June 2013, 64 percent of Democrats approved, and 34 percent disapproved. (Republicans’ views shifted during that time period as well, but less dramatically, from 75 percent approval to about evenly split.)

Prominent members of the Left don’t care about their own carbon emissions while urging others to reduce theirs. They call for tax hikes on other people while failing to pay their own taxes.

The lesson of the Obama years is that most progressives — certainly large swaths of the lefty grassroots, and most of the well-connected elites — don’t really give a hoot about most of the things they scream about. What they want is to win, and almost all the policy details are negotiable. If winning requires Wendy Davis to pretend that she could support certain legal restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks, then she’ll do it. If winning requires Barack Obama to tell prominent evangelical Rick Warren that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” then he’ll do it.

Those on the Left find the person they want to support, and fall in line behind that person. On the Right, many of us reverse the process: We pick our positions and then hunt for a figure who lines up with those positions as close to 100 percent as possible. This means that any policy disagreement can trigger a dissipation of enthusiasm or cries of “RINO!” High-flying stars can tumble quickly, as Senator Marco Rubio learned when he backed a comprehensive immigration deal.

The Right’s approach may be better, but it is also much, much more difficult.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.