The word first popped up in a big way in the 2004 election to explain John Kerry's flip-flops on the issues. See, according to the liberals when a Democrat flip-flops it is really a matter of perception. He hasn't really changed his views since they are "nuanced." And if we think he has flip-flopped that is only because we yahoos just aren't enlightened enough to understand the complicated "nuance." This word has been resurrected again by McClatchy writer, Margaret Talev, to explain Barack Obama's recent flip-flops.
Talev does a good job explaining why some of us unenlightened types might perceive Obama's recent dramatic shifts on the issues as flip-flops:
From the beginning, Barack Obama's special appeal was his vow to remain an idealistic outsider, courageous and optimistic, and never to shift his positions for political expediency, or become captive of the Inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia, or kiss up to special interests and big money donors.
In recent weeks, though, Obama has done all those things.
He abandoned public campaign financing after years of championing it. Backed a compromise on wiretap legislation that gives telecom companies retroactive immunity for helping the government conduct spying without warrants. Dumped his controversial pastor of two decades — then his church — after saying he could no more abandon the pastor than abandon his own grandmother.
He said he wouldn't wear the U.S. flag pin because it had become a substitute for true patriotism, then started wearing it. Ramped up his courtship of unions. Shifted from a pledge to protect working-class families from tax increases to a far more expensive promise not to raise taxes on families that earn up to $250,000 a year. Turned to longtime D.C. Democratic wise men to run his vice-presidential search and staff his foreign-policy brain trust.
Then comes the disclaimer from the Obama people that the rest of us are just not enlightened enough to understand that he really hasn't shifted positions:
Obama's aides dismiss criticism of his shifts as misunderstandings of his original positions, or merit-based decisions that Obama had never ruled out.
Then Talev pulls out that all-purpose word to explain political flip-flops:
Indeed, Obama's positions are often nuanced.
So why do us poor unenlightened souls seem to think of Obama's policy shifts as flip-flopping? A California professor seems to have found the villain:
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, said that while Obama might be shaking the faith of some idealists with some of his shifts, politically "he's probably doing the smart thing."
This year's election is more likely to be decided on Iraq and the economy, Pitney said, adding: "This is the transition between a fantasy campaign and a real campaign. In a fantasy campaign you are in the clouds and never compromise. In a real campaign, you compromise."
Candidates have often done that, of course, but in earlier times "you didn't have YouTube," Pitney said. "The record of candidate statements is a lot more detailed and complete than it was 40 years ago."
So there you have it. That perception of Obama flip-flopping is the fault of YouTube. Because we can now easily see a candidate take a position in contrast to what he stated earlier, what is really supposed to be "nuance" comes off as a flip-flop by a politician primarily interested in getting votes.
UPDATE: You can see why people like Professor Pitney blame YouTube for the perception of flip-flopping by watching an Obama flip-flop (or nuance) on the D.C. handgun ban in this just released YouTube video.