Is Flip Flopping Really so Bad?
By Steve Gillman
To be labeled a flip flopping politician is one of the worst
political fates here in the United States. It isn't difficult
to understand why the public dislikes those who flip-flop in
their positions. The term means to change ones mind on an issue
or issues, and it's assumed this is done solely for political
purposes. As voters, we are left wondering if the candidate has
any true beliefs, and what they are.
However, if the flip flopping label is applied to all politicians
who change their minds on any issue, can it really be such a
bad thing? I don't think so. In fact, I recently heard a comment
from presidential candidate John McCain that was to me far worse
than changing one's position.
"Look, I have never changed any of my positions,"
he proudly told a reporter, in order to differentiate himself
from those other candidates who had changed positions on the
That's a terrible thing to be proud of! McCain has been on
the political scene for a long time. Has he really learned nothing
that has changed his mind on any issue? Did he figure out exactly
the right positions and opinions thirty years ago? Do you agree
with everything you thought thirty years ago?
With time, normal humans change their minds and opinions according
what is learned and experienced. It is referred to as growing
and maturing. Short-term, there is normally a consistency in
ones ideas and opinions if one is a rational thinker. But to
have all the same beliefs and opinions over a long time almost
certainly indicates a closed mind. It's just a matter of probabilities:
How likely is it that there has been nothing new learned or experienced
that would affect a person's thinking over the course of ten
or thirty years?
Now, what if we assume that McCain really had no new information,
experience or thoughts that should have altered his opinions
over the years? His obvious pride in staying the same is still
a problem, isn't it? What if he discovers something new that
should change his mind? Will he ignore it in order to keep his
Note: This wasn't meant to be anti-McCain. He just
happened to be the one who made it a point of pride to have "never
changed." Early in his career, I considered him to be one
of the most honest men in Washington. And if you have ever read
about his experience of being tortured for five years in Vietnam
- and then forgiving his captors - you know he was courageous,
open-minded and intelligent.
I Have Changed My Mind !
Obviously, if there is a better way to do something, or an
idea that is more in accord with the truth, a person - even a
politician - should choose it. Assuming we can learn, then, one's
opinions and a politician's positions should change once in a
while. Of course, it seems likely that the changing positions
we see during election time are not honest reassessments, but
political calculations. But in any case, here's a scenario I
would love to see, just once:
An honest politician (I'm feeling optimistic today) is accused
of changing his position on an important issue. He did it for
good reasons, however, so instead of defending himself with the
usual tortured logic showing how his position didn't really change,
he takes the offensive;
"Yes, I have changed my position," he says, looking
straight into the camera. "I was mistaken, and I see that
this is a better way. And I promise you that I will always change
my position when necessary. I will not stubbornly cling to my
opinions or positions for pride or political points when I see
that there is a better course for the country."
Don't expect to see that happen any time soon. The scenario
above requires not only an honest politician, but one who is
courageous as well. In the meantime, though, let's hope the political
climate evolves just enough to allow some honest "flip-flopping"
to go unpunished.