Ideological Evolution

In politics, being a flip-flopper is not as bad as being a train robber. But it’s not much better. If you don’t believe me, ask John Kerry. When Kerry famously explained that he voted for an $87 billion war appropriation bill before he voted against it, George W. Bush labeled Kerry a flip-flopper in the 2004 presidential election. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not surprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans are in a rush to call each other flip-floppers. The presidential election is not until November 6, 2012, and the Republicans may be months away from nominating a candidate. Nevertheless, Team Obama is already attacking Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, as a flip-flopper.

In fact, the Democratic National Committee has created, a website dedicated to the flip-flops of Mitt Romney. This website even sells “union made” WhichMitt mugs for those who “need a strong cup of coffee to keep up” with Romney’s flip-flops. I almost bought one of these mugs. But when I realized they cost $20, I thought I should wait for the clearance sale.

The Republicans understand that the best defense is a good offense. So don’t be surprised if their candidate tries to flip the flip-flop label on Obama. In fact, there are media reports that Romney is planning to do just that since Obama was against Guantanamo, rendition and the Patriot Act before he supported them.

The esteemed political philosopher Marilyn Monroe explained this flip-flopping phenomenon when she said, “I don’t fool the public; I let them fool themselves.” So, maybe it’s perfectly understandable why our elected representatives manipulate our desire to regard politicians as lying, no good, dirty scoundrels who will say anything to get elected.

Nevertheless, I wonder if we over-emphasize pig headed consistency in our politicians. I don’t know about you, but I am wrong about being right with alarming regularity. In fact, I think flip-flopping is a natural human response to the annoying ambiguities of life where things are not always what they first seem to be.

If life is like a test without an answer sheet, it’s perfectly natural for politicians to get things wrong just like everyone else. The only problem is that their mistakes have wide repercussions. When I make a mistake, I’m usually the only one who suffers. When politicians make a mistake, 24 million Americans might become unemployed.

As a result, I’d like to propose a new approach to flip-flopping. Just as we outgrow old beliefs and adopt new ones, let’s encourage our politicians to do the same. Let’s agree that politicians have an obligation to unscrew the things they have made screwy.

But let’s go about this the right way. Instead of asking whether a candidate flip-flopped, let’s inquire why he changed his mind. If he did so for politically expedient reasons, he deserves criticism. If he reversed direction because further analysis proved wrong what he once thought was right, he should earn our praise.

Making this determination won’t be easy because most politicians are about as transparent as muddy water. But shouldn’t we encourage them to tell the truth and to stop making the same mistakes that have created the big mess we’re in? We need change. And as George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who cannot change their mind cannot change anything.”

Eric Meyers is a new Upper from Miami, FL.