President Obama had his own Etch A Sketch moment today.
The Democrat was speaking to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting in Seoul, Korea, when reporters entering the room overheard Obama trying to preach patience with his counterpart.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama could be heard telling Medvedev, referring to incoming President Vladimir Putin.
“Yeah, I understand,” Medvedev replied in English. “I understand your message about space. Space for you.”
Obama interrupted to say: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev replied with terminology reminiscent of Russia’s Communist past.
“I understand,” he said. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”
Aides to Republican rival Mitt Romney pounced on the statement - and with good reason. It’s a memorable comment reminiscent of John Kerry announcing in 2004 that he voted for war funding before he voted against it. That fed the impression he was a flip-flopper.
The Romney camp already argues that Obama unchecked in a second term is a dangerous prospect. Now, it has Obama himself reinforcing that line of argument.
Last week, they faced criticism after senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom suggested Romney would have a clean slate in the fall campaign much like a child gets with a shaken Etch A Sketch toy.
Democrats said the comment revealed Romney would abandon his conservative primary stances to appeal to moderates during the general election.
Today, the Romney camp responded with a press release leveling a similar charge against Obama.
It was headlined: “FILL IN THE BLANK: I’LL HAVE MORE FLEXIBILITY TO ______ AFTER THE ELECTION.”
It suggested Obama might also raise taxes, revive a cap-and-trade energy program, and enact more regulations.
“President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term,” Romney said in a statement. “Higher taxes, more spending, and increased debt are all on the table as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, despite what he says publicly.”
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.