Ballot Box

The Flip-Flops of Carol Moseley Braun

What she said then. What she 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 are two switches commonly attributed to Carol Moseley Braun—and the context her critics leave out.

Flip: On Nov. 4, 1998, the day after Braun lost her Senate seat to Peter Fitzgerald, the Chicago Tribune asked her whether she would ever run for public office again. She replied,“Read my lips: Not. Never. Nein. Nyet.

Flop: Braun is now running for president.

Context: Swearing off politics the day after you’ve lost an election is like swearing off dating the day after you’ve been dumped. It’s hardly fair to hold someone accountable to what she says at such a moment, particularly when it pertains to no policy question and to no other person.

Braun said repeatedly in 2003 that she decided to run for president because others had urged her to get in. Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s 2000 campaign manager, told the Washington Post in 2003 that she had encouraged Braun to run.

Flip: On Feb. 18, 2003, Braun said she supported the NAACP’s boycott of South Carolina for flying the Confederate battle flag on state grounds. The Tribune reported that Braun “said she would honor the NAACP’s economic boycott of the state by staying in private homes while campaigning in South Carolina.”

Flop: According to the Tribune, Braun simultaneously “acknowledged that it would be impossible to campaign [in South Carolina] without spending money.”

Context: Braun agreed with the NAACP position that the Confederate battle flag was a divisive and inappropriate symbol. Her pledge to stay at private homes rather than to spend money for lodging in South Carolina was no different from John Edwards’ position. And opposing Confederate symbols is one of the few issues on which Braun can genuinely claim to have led.