Ballot Box

The Flip-Flops of Bob Graham

What he said then. What he says now. What happened.

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, and worst moments. This series assesses the candidates’ purported flip-flops. Here is a sequence of switches attributed to Bob Graham—and the context his critics leave out.

Flip: On April 9, 2003, addressing the Children’s Defense Fund, a liberal group, Graham sought to distinguish himself from his presidential rivals. “Do we have the courage of our convictions?” he asked. “It takes clarity of action. I voted to eliminate all of President Bush’s tax cuts.”

Flop: On April 27, when asked whether he would repeal all of Bush’s tax cuts, Graham said, “I would not go that far. I would draw the line with those tax cuts which are already in place, but freeze all those that have yet to be implemented, including eliminating the tax cut that … the president is currently proposing.”

Flip: On April 28, Graham charged that rival Sens. John Edwards, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman “voted for the $350 billion tax cuts.” On May 3, Graham said he had voted against these cuts because “it’s reckless and irresponsible, at a time of rising deficits, at a time that we are at war … to be talking about cutting $1.2 trillion” in revenue.

Context: There’s no inconsistency in Graham’s statements about his own position. He simply neglects to distinguish the 2001 tax cut from the 2003 tax cut. Graham voted to eliminate all of the 2003 tax cut. As to the 2001 tax cut, he would freeze only the portions that have yet to take effect.

The inconsistency lies in the standards Graham applies to his opponents but not to himself. On March 21, 2003, Edwards, Kerry, and Lieberman voted against an amendment, supported by Graham, that would have zeroed out the 2003 tax cut. But they never voted for $1.2 trillion in tax cuts. Nor is it accurate to say that they, unlike Graham, “voted for” $350 billion in tax cuts. What they voted for on March 21 was an amendment to prevent the 2003 cut from exceeding $350 billion. Graham voted for the same amendment. When the newly capped tax cut came up for a vote on April 11—and again on May 15 and May 23—Edwards, Kerry, and Lieberman joined Graham in voting against it.

Kerry made clear in voting for the $350 billion cap on March 21 that he did “not support a $350 billion tax cut” but that he was voting for the cap amendment “because it presented our best chance to cut the size of the irresponsible tax cut.” A month later, Graham gave virtually the same reason for his own vote in favor of the cap amendment: “This is probably our best chance to achieve some discipline in this budget resolution.”