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Having it both ways 

The old proverb "you can't have it both ways" always had limited application in the political world, but in this year of the Tea Party, fanaticism and rage, the opposite has become de rigueur. You can most certainly have it both ways and you are stupid if you don't.

It may be a defense mechanism. Politicians feel compelled to pay some homage to any belief if is righteously enough held, even when it conflicts with what they have said or done or are about to say or do.

So Carl Paladino, the Tea Party-backed upstart who won the Republican nomination for governor in New York, delivered carefully prepared remarks to conservative rabbis denouncing homosexuals and people who told their children that there was nothing wrong with homosexuals. God did not create gays and lesbians, he said, and children should never be exposed to their existence or be taught to accept them. The rabbis applauded lustily. Police had arrested eight members of a street gang in the Bronx for beating and torturing gays.

Then Paladino talked to reporters and said he was not antigay, had homosexuals working for him and had no problem with homosexuality "whatsoever."

His remarks could hardly have been more antithetical, and you would expect that he would lose credibility with both sides. It will prove to be a stroke of genius.

The duplicity is a mark of the conservative revolution, although conservatives and Republicans are not the only practitioners. From Sarah Palin to Christine O'Donnell and all the revolutionaries who have wrested the Republican nomination from the GOP mainline, politicians learned that you could promise one thing, do or say the opposite and get credit for both. People will accept the part they like and disregard the other.

The artifice is pandemic in Arkansas. Pick a race — well, why not every race for Congress?

Congressman John Boozman, the GOP Senate candidate, sponsored the "Fair Tax" bill in the House, a 15-year-old proposal to replace most current federal taxes with a 30 percent sales tax on everything you buy, from a home to a haircut. (Yes, yes, I know that the 30 percent tax would be only 23 percent of the final after-tax price of a product.) Boozman said it would have marvelous benefits — getting rid of the IRS and all that. But when Sen. Blanche Lincoln jumped him about it and pointed out that it would be a huge tax increase on working families and ruinous to merchants Boozman said he had never cared that much for the Fair Tax and it was unfair of Lincoln to say that he favored it.

Lincoln could hardly condemn the hypocrisy. She may be its leading practitioner. She sponsored the union card-check bill, then denounced it and the unions that backed it. She voted for and against national health insurance reform. She said she cast the deciding vote for reform and then denied it. In some forums she takes credit for the law but has next to nothing to say in its defense.

But Lincoln is the one politician who does not get away with the guile. Neither side is ever forgiving. But she may simply have gone to the well too often.

Nothing brings out the deceit like Social Security, politics' famous third rail. Boozman supported efforts to privatize Social Security —i.e., allow younger workers to stop paying Social Security taxes and invest the money in commercial securities but he cries foul when Lincoln accuses him of it. He would never touch Social Security, he says. He is still backed by national groups that support privatization.

Over in the First District, Rick Crawford, the Republican candidate for U. S. representative, objected when his opponent, Chad Causey, ran ads accusing him of favoring some privatization. He told the papers that he had "never" favored it. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found a Facebook video in which he told Lonoke County Republicans that privatization was the solution to Social Security's problems. He signed a pledge for radio host Laura Ingraham promising to vote for privatization. When the Democrat-Gazette asked him about those remarks, he refused to say whether he favored privatization. It won't matter.

Then there's Karl Rove's cagey understudy, Tim Griffin. He told Republican groups that he was impressed with the Fair Tax legislation and would work for something like it. But when his congressional opponent, Joyce Elliott, tagged him for it he complained that he had never been exactly for it and foresaw some complications from it. The Democrat-Gazette editorial page said Elliott had demonstrated a lack of character by accusing Griffin of saying something that he was on record as saying. Now he's running commercials accusing Elliott of lacking character and citing the state's Republican newspaper as the authority.

As for Social Security, he says he's not especially a fan of privatization although Karl Rove hired him at the White House in 2005 to help sell Bush's Social Security privatization to a hostile Congress and public. Maybe he worked for something he opposed. Principle is a disposable commodity. Griffin is backed by the millionaires' Club for Growth, which promotes privatization.

This year anyway, shiftiness does work. Lying, too.

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