Opponents of John Kerry made flip-flopping a devastating campaign issue in 2004 which, it can be argued, was second only to swiftboating in sinking his bid for the presidency.
This year, Mitt Romney was labeled “the king of flip-flop” by at least one adversary, but he isn’t the only candidate who is a target of the accusation. Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama have all been attacked for flip-flopping on issues as crucial as the Iraq War and as insignificant as smoking in public. So far, with the exception of Romney, the accusation hasn’t had the sticking power it had with Kerry, but the campaign has nine months to go and the right (or wrong) flip-flop could yet become a vote killer for someone.
The candidates themselves are partially to blame. Too often, in speeches to minor constituencies, they advocate positions they would not consider voicing in a national campaign ad, which leaves them wide open for the flip-flop label. And it is hard to find an instance when any explained how they came to alter their point of view.
But most of the flip-flop attacks cast negative meaning to change itself which is ironic in a campaign in which polls unanimously show that the nation wants change and every presidential candidate has tried to position him- or herself as the greatest agent of change.
In four years, the act of changing one’s mind has become an act of political - with more than a whiff of moral - turpitude. No one asks the candidate for reasons; a flip-flop is proof on its face of patent dishonesty. Deviation from a position held for as long as 25 years or announced as recently as the last debate marks a candidate with a red-letter F.
This begs the question, when are candidates – or any person – supposed to have chiseled their beliefs in stone? Should they be set for life at age 20? Or should we be given another decade to arrive at our thereafter immutable opinions? What if at any age reason - someone’s argument, events or new information - causes one to reconsider? Can we never decide we were wrong about an issue?
To live is to grow and to grow is to change. To remain steadfast in beliefs when evidence and circumstances change is the definition of hidebound. It denies learning and prevents progress. Is that what the flip-flop accusers want in a leader? Isn't that what we've suffered through for the past seven years? I’m looking for a presidential candidate who will flip-flop (for a change) when reason demands it.
A little lightness on the subject (2:01 minutes):
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia explains why she sees a therapist in her son's future in Outer Space Cow.]