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May 23, 2011 2:15 PM Truth outweighs consistency

By Steve Benen

Jon Huntsman was asked on Friday about his support for the Recovery Act, and the fact that in 2009, he wanted the stimulus to be bigger, not smaller.

Huntsman said his problem with the Recovery Act had to do with taxes. “[M]y take was, let’s stimulate business,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “Let’s look at tax cuts, let’s look at payroll tax deductions.”

Was that actually his take? Actually, no. Here’s a video of Huntsman talking about the stimulus two years ago.

For those who can’t watch clips from your work computers, starting at around the 3:15 mark in this video, Huntsman said of the stimulus, “Too little focus on meaningful and relevant infrastructure that would have enhanced our entire nation and our ability to compete. Whether delivering products or moving people from point A to point B — in other words, the overall enhancement of needed infrastructure in our country which is desperately needed.

“So you had maybe 25% infrastructure [in the stimulus], 75% all other categories — it should have been reversed to my mind, so that coming out of the stimulus phase, we actually could have maybe achieved a better, stronger, more 21st-century infrastructure in our country. […]

“That is my one gripe…. Stimulus, to be sure, that was needed. We needed to kick-start the economy and infuse it with some liquidity. It was sort of the targeted end-points that I would question.”

This is critically important to understanding Huntsman. His line on stimulus wasn’t just progressive; it was arguably to the left of many Democrats. Faced with the economic crisis, Huntsman’s argument was that Democrats weren’t spending enough money.

For the record, I imagine the Obama White House would have loved to pursue a similar approach to the one Huntsman outlined, but it was conservatives in Congress who refused. In the context of the 2012 campaign, though, it’s worth remembering that his “one gripe” with the stimulus two years ago had nothing to do with wanting more tax cuts — it was that he wanted more government spending, especially on infrastructure, not less.

Obviously, that’s the exact opposite of the Republican Party’s approach to economic policy, but just as important, it’s also the opposite of what Huntsman said about his position last week.

The political discourse puts quite a bit of weight on politicians’ “flip-flops,” in large part because we’re sensitive to candidates reinventing themselves in the name of political expediency. Voters want to know what they’re going to get when the vote for someone — especially at the national level — and those with records filled with inconsistencies are held suspect.

But flip-flops aren’t always fatal. Sometimes, candidates simply change their minds, sincerely, based on new and different information. Occasionally, a politician’s thinking on an issue really will evolve. For that matter, we’ve seen plenty of reversals come with compelling explanations.

What politicians have to be careful about is lying about flip-flops. Changing one’s mind is forgivable; misleading the public is far more problematic.

On a health care mandate, for example, Huntsman not only appears to have flip-flopped, he also appears to have given misleading answers about his reversal. And now on the stimulus, Huntsman is not only changing his position, he’s not telling the whole truth about the evolution.

This is a very bad habit for a politician to pick up.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • hell's littlest angel on May 23, 2011 2:48 PM:

    While Huntsman's dishonesty is impressive, he does not appear to have the "fire in the spleen" ("government takeover!", "god damn America!") that he'll need to really win over the Republican base.

  • stevio on May 23, 2011 2:49 PM:

    "This is a very bad habit for a politician to pick up."

    Steve,

    Please list one or two habits politicians should pick-up...

    If they involve integrity, morality that's for real, or flat-out ethical high road only, in todays reality that person will not be elected. Obama has NOT pursued judicial attempts to go after torturers, big banks, or wall street in an ethical and morally responsible manner. Period.

  • philowitz on May 23, 2011 2:50 PM:

    I fear he is just one more clown on the bus:
    http://possibleexperience.blogspot.com/2011/05/clowns-on-bus.html

  • Anonymous on May 23, 2011 2:51 PM:

    You're fighting 2000's battle.
    Flip flopping was a big deal that the media made a big deal about... when Al Gore did it.
    I don't pay attention to the MSM much but, besides progressive web sites and blogs, I don't recall that the media cared that much that John McCain had flip flopped on just about every single position he had previously held.

  • some guy on May 23, 2011 3:00 PM:

    For the record, I imagine the Obama White House would have loved to pursue a similar approach to the one Huntsman outlined, but it was conservatives in Congress who refused

    Steve, remind us again which political party controlled the White House, the Senate , and the House from 2008-2010.

  • jvwalt on May 23, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Huntsman's about to get a huge PR boost -- which may or may not help his candidacy -- from the Beltway punditocracy. Having been left at the altar by their Golden Boy Mitch Daniels, they've got to find a new dream candidate. Today on "Morning Joe," the panel was practically orgasming over Huntsman. One of them (Mark Halperin, I think) referred to him as a "political athlete" superior to Obama or Bush. A Kennedy comparison was broached.

    I don't think the Beltway crowd will help much with the Tea Partiers, who will have to overlook Huntsman's moderate record and Mormonism. But look for Huntsman to become the Flavor of the Month on cable news.

  • T2 on May 23, 2011 3:20 PM:

    "This is a very bad habit for a politician to pick up" -

    not if you are a Republican

  • ManOutOfTime on May 23, 2011 3:22 PM:

    Tweetie gave a completely incoherent rambling overview of tone-deaf rich men running for POTUS - I think it was spurred by Gingrich's Tiffany account - and how the media pounce on them. Clips of GHWB and GWB being silly in 1988. Not sure that was pounced on in any kind of way - GHWB was acknowledged as patrician and out of touch until the debates with Clinton four years later. Clip of John Kerry windsurfing - which Matthews noted fed into the flip-flopper (Leno: even in his hobbies he goes wherever the wind is blowing) as well as the not-one-of-us meme. Finished with Edwards's "$400 haircut" and viral video of him fixing his hair before an interview. Lame.

    Somehow, all this reflected on the candidates, not on the MSM. Huntsman will not pay a price for his mendacity. He is a GOP daddy and they don't lie; if you call them on their lying, then you are biased.

    I was shocked and disappointed with the tone of the 1988 election, but I was a babe and hadn't paid much attention before. Five election cycles later, same old stuff in new bottles, just with more potent dosages thanks to the Internet I.V.

  • max on May 23, 2011 3:23 PM:

    The more I see of Huntsman the more he appears to be another Republican serial liar. He and Pawlenty will be great SNL material for a future Biggest Liar segment. The original Recovery Act appropriation Act was $787 billion, including approximately $284 in tax cuts. Economists like Joseph Stiglitz complained, rightly, that the tax cuts (a Republican suggestion) were unnecessary and there should have also been more direct aid to the states for infrastructure. Huntsman agreed with this view at the time. Now he claims the bill should have included even more tax cuts.

  • John on May 23, 2011 3:25 PM:

    On a health care mandate, for example, Huntsman not only appears to have flip-flopped, he also appears to have given misleading answers about his reversal.

    Another week, another strangely overly-tanned, hypocritical Republican.

    What's funny is how many of these clods still don't seem to understand we live in an age of, as Rachel Maddow says, "the Google" and YouTube. The casual lies and flip-flops they could get away with ten or fifteen years ago (usually with the eager help of our "liberal" media) won't fly anymore. Someone can always dig up the video or the quote.

  • DAY on May 23, 2011 3:28 PM:

    He's just another "not ready for prime time" candidate. I saw him in a house party setting yesterday, on C-SPAN, and in NH. Very low key, unscripted, smiling family, no necktie. There is no "there" there.

    Ditto the pizza tycoon, in Atlanta. Wore sunglasses (the eyes are the window of the soul- maybe he doesn't have one.) Shouted platitudes that might as well have been "We can win, Winsocki, if we only buckle down!"

    Pawlenty looks like a Smurf. Newt looks like a newt.

    The beltway bozos seem to have a new thrill run up their leg every week. Anything for eyeballs. Whores.

  • Sam Simple on May 23, 2011 3:33 PM:

    ManOutofTime touched on the truth above. Namely, lying and flip-flopping only count against Democrats. Republicans can say anything they want because they have such impeccable "family values".

  • chi res on May 23, 2011 3:33 PM:

    some guy: Steve, remind us again which political party controlled the White House, the Senate , and the House from 2008-2010.

    some guy, remind us again how many votes it takes to overcome a Senate filibuster. Or do you just like to bash Obama for fun?

  • Michael on May 23, 2011 5:28 PM:

    Exactly chi res, they have no idea how congress works , they believe a majjority means you can run roughshod over the place. This is what checks and balances are.However, republicans are deciding not to play by rules at all.

  • Michael on May 23, 2011 5:29 PM:

    That comes with throwing out the moral compass.

  • some guy on May 23, 2011 6:57 PM:

    It takes 50 votes to p[ass the Bush tax cuts, but 60 votes to pass any of the Democratic agenda. got it. this is why the ACA needed 60 votes to pass, right? amazing how Obama was finally able to get 60 votes for his signature healthcare bill. oh, wait...

    talking out of both sides of your mouth, the sure sign of a political operative.

  • chi res on May 23, 2011 7:12 PM:

    If there's anyone operating out of an obvious political agenda here, that would be you, some guy.

    There's this thing called compromise, it's exactly what Benen was referring to (and about which you complained in your comment), and it's exactly what allowed Obama to pass the ACA.

    You're offended because Obama had to compromise to pass the stimulus, but then you try to use his passage of ACA, on which he also compromised, to prove that he could have passed the stimulus without compromise.

    Both sides of your mouth? Again, that would be you.

  • Doug on May 23, 2011 7:28 PM:

    "...this is why the ACA needed 60 votes to pass, right?" some guy @ 6:57 PM.
    The Bush tax cuts were passed using the reconciliation process. Use of the reconciliation process only requires 51 votes for passage. If I understand correctly, reconciliation also sets a time-limit on bills passed via that method, which is why the Bush tax cuts were set to automaticaly expire last year.
    Using reconciliation requires that bills DO NOT contibute to the deficit. If they do, then a maximum time limit for the legislation is required; ie, tax cuts automatically expire after a number of years UNLESS corresponding spending cuts are also made. I understand the maximum period allowable is 10 years.
    Had reconciliation been used for the ACA, it would have automatically limited the life of that piece of legislation to no more than 10 years. Even you should understand the desire of Democrats NOT to have to go through 2009 again in 2019.
    I found your last sentence, "talking out of both sides of your mouth, the sure sign of a political operative", very illuminating. You really shouldn't give yourself away like that...

  • Michael on May 23, 2011 9:33 PM:

    It takes 50 votes to p[ass the Bush tax cuts, but 60 votes to pass any of the Democratic agenda. got it. this is why the ACA needed 60 votes to pass, right? amazing how Obama was finally able to get 60 votes for his signature healthcare bill. oh, wait...

    talking out of both sides of your mouth, the sure sign of a political operative.

    Im sorry friend, but think again, he wasn't going to get anything on the stimulous, until he set them up with the tax cut, where it is now hurting them, and possibly be rescinded a bit in the debt deal.I forget the details.

    I don't remember the politics, but it was at a certain time,they thought they could hang the health care around his neck, and did that by purely unethical lying. (which they excel at), so they happily passed the health insurance finally, after they nearly gutted it.

  • Anonymous on May 24, 2011 12:46 AM:

    I WROTE IN 2008 that Romney looked like that type of doctor who'll often say, "We may have to order more test, because I'll be damned if I can find anything wrong". So yeah, it looks like if the GOP ticket for 2012 is Romney/Bachmann, they'd succeed in skewing the presidential debates towards the political-right, in what would otherwise probably be a losing camapign to dislodge Obama/Biden. However, in listening to reporters on 'Morning Joe' earlier today, they described how Jon Huntsman, of all the viable and/or potential candidates, he seems able to capture the voters imagination. Something Obama also was able to do in 2008, but has since faded away. As noted on 'Morning Joe', Huntsman could lbring some added civility to the political dialog. So the question now may be, where does Huntsman stand (relative to Obama) on major issue like war(s), deficits, greenhouse gas pollution and Medicare.

  • Neurologically disordered on May 24, 2011 2:40 AM:

    I WROTE IN 2008 that Romney looked like that type of doctor who'll often say, "We may have to order more test, because I'll be damned if I can find anything wrong". So yeah, it looks like if the GOP ticket for 2012 is Romney/Bachmann, they'd succeed in skewing the presidential debates towards the political-right, in what would otherwise probably be a losing camapign to dislodge Obama/Biden. However, in listening to reporters on 'Morning Joe' earlier today, they described how Jon Huntsman, of all the viable and/or potential candidates, he seems able to capture the voters imagination. Something Obama also was able to do in 2008, but has since faded away. As noted on 'Morning Joe', Huntsman could bring some added civility to the nations political discourse. So the question now may be, where does Huntsman stand (relative to Obama) on major issue like war(s), deficits, CO2 pollution and Medicare

  • some guy on May 24, 2011 8:22 AM:

    in fact, Benen's central claim (and that made by 3rd Way types here supporting him) is this: For the record, I imagine the Obama White House would have loved to pursue a similar approach to the one Huntsman outlined, but it was conservatives in Congress who refused.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/24/AR2009012400661_2.html?sid=ST2009012402392

    In his first weekly presidential radio and video address, Obama said his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is critical to jump-starting the economy, which lost 2.6 million jobs last year. The plan, he said, would protect workers from losing health-care coverage; modernize public schools, roads and sewer systems; lower energy costs and taxes; and make college more affordable.

    ....
    The White House released a four-page report yesterday outlining spending priorities and accountability measures for the recovery package. Obama wants to double renewable energy capacity within three years, creating enough additional capacity to power 6 million homes, and he plans to leverage $100 billion to finance private-sector clean-energy initiatives.

    His plan also calls for an expansion of the child tax credit, which would provide a new tax cut to the families of more than 6 million children and increase the existing credit for the families of more than 10 million children
    ....
    A bonus for businesses in Obama's plan is a provision that would allow them to carry back their losses into taxes filed for the previous five years, which would produce a windfall, said C. Clinton Stretch, a tax expert at Deloitte Tax LLP. "That puts cash very quickly in the hands of businesses, which are, by definition, struggling," said Stretch, a contributor to Democratic campaigns.

    shorter Benen/Chi Res: the Republicans made him do it their way.


    too funny

  • max on May 24, 2011 10:19 AM:

    some guy on May 24, 2011 8:22 AM:

    "...in fact, Benen's central claim (and that made by 3rd Way types here supporting him) is this: For the record, I imagine the Obama White House would have loved to pursue a similar approach to the one Huntsman outlined, but it was conservatives in Congress who refused."

    Benen's statement is accurate and it is not even his "central claim" in this article. You linked us to a January 2009 WaPo article published before the bill was even passed. I have no idea why since the ebb and flow of the ensuing debate changed the dynamics.

    Ending floor debate on the bill in the Senate required a 61-36 vote (with 2 abstentions) and passing the bill - with $284 billion in tax cuts - required a 60-38 Senate vote (with only 3 Republican Yes votes). Conservatives voted against the bill with minor exceptions.

    The real central claim of Benen's piece, is that Huntsman was arguably to the left of the White House regarding the content if the final bill. However, now he is claiming after the fact that it should have included more infrastructure funding.

    More infrastructure funding would have reduced the size of the tax cuts - or - raised the entire cost of the bill. As anyone who followed the politics of Recovery Act negotiations is aware, reducing the tax cuts in the original bill and/or raising its total cost were both politically inpossible.

    To recap, Huntsman has now reversed his previous public statements (which are on the Internet) and now claims he was always for more tax cuts, which would have meant no recovery bill at all. Huntsman is being both disingenuous and dishonest, a clue to his character and how he would govern

  • max on May 24, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Oops, I meant to say Huntsman is not saying the bill should ahve included more tax cuts in my 3rd paragraph.

  • Hmm. on May 25, 2011 9:40 PM:

    This is very unfortunate and disappointing, but it still seems that Huntsman is probably the best Republican candidate of the current options. Hopefully Huntsman will accept and maybe even embrace his original position and still win the nomination (if he can overtake Romney then he might be able to win). One does not need to hew stridently to one ideology, no matter what the cost, in economics.

    Obama has some things he flipped on several things too. Obama went back on his statemates that he would directly refer to the Armenian Genocide as a genocide and his views towards the constitutional requirement that Congress have the power to declare war (this is very serious and not receiving enough attention). And no, the failures of George Bush, which are very significant, do not justify Obama's negligence of the constitution and his refusal to discuss his views of the War Powers Act.

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