This Week in Elder News: 9 February 2008
What Our Youth Culture Has Wrought

The Flip-Flop Fallacy

category_bug_politics.gif 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.]


Thank you. A subject dear to my heart...if you haven't changed your views on various subjects and at various times; you haven't been thinking! Wouldn't it be nice to have a 'thinking' person in the White House?


I wholeheartedly agree with you.

There are issues George W. should have changed his mind about, but didn't, to the detriment of our country.

I often think that if John Kerry had said, "How dare you question my military service?" or "Yes, I changed my mind about the War when certain facts were brought to my attention that I was not aware of at the time of the vote." he would have been elected President and we would have been spared four years of G.W.B.

To me, it is a sign of intelligence to accept that one's stance may be wrong. It can get frustrating (calcium is good for you--er, not so good for you--er); but, good grief! Even physicists have changed their minds about conservation of parity (on the basis of further data and/or logic) more than once!

Bravo and I agree totally. We should be open to changing our minds when new information comes along or the situation changes unless we are fundamentalists on something which means we already knew all we needed to know and don't bother reading or hearing anything to confuse that opinion. As we get old, being flexible is a major part of quality of life-- spine or mind.

I always wished that Kerry would give a speech refuting the lies told about him. He not only let them get away with it, but he came across as weak kneed for not fighting. I had hoped that the candidates had learned from that as well as from the successful stances of former candidates. John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." was so powerful.

People can spot a phony candidate who only says what his handlers think will win him/her votes and not what he/she truly believes.
Being able to change one's mind is a mark of maturity and not being able to is a sign of having a narrow ideology and a lack of inquisitiveness. Like that old bumper sticker. "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind's made up."


terrific the video! i'm with Rain on this; we could talk more about being open to change in later life.

Thank You Ronni - there is nothing more pathetic than a politician backing up while speaking from both sides of his or her mouth after being nailed about something said at another time in another place based on a changing set of facts.

Commercial media appeal to the lowest common denominator (in 30 seconds) seems to insist that the American public has an extremely difficult time with the complexities of diverse “reality.” Who doesn’t. (Now I’m flipflopping). But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the focus could be on education instead of polarization?

Oh well, I guess that’s why we call it the human “race.”

I heartily agree that the ability to change ones mind is a sign of a healthy and mature individual. Moreover, it takes a big person to admit their first position was wrong or perhaps ill considered. Change is good as long as it is based on new information, rational argument or refutation of the original thesis. However, where our politicians get it wrong is in changing opinion or statements to fit the moment or the crowd. Concerning John Kerry, he is not President today for one reason: he did not have the strength of character to forcefully stand on his beliefs in the face of criticism and derision. He was and is a weak leader. War hero, probably, Presidential timber, no. Perhaps George W. Bush could have made different conclusions based on the information at hand. However, you have to admit that he has stayed the course and remained faithful to his core beliefs. Flip-flop is an apt description of Hillary and Mitt and Rudy and explains why they will never reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It must be hard as a person, but particularly a politician, to admit a change of opinion and come out looking strong to others. Just my experience with motherhood has proven that all I once held true (no bribing, coercing, pleading)about childrearing will eventually be proven untrue. Overall, we believe a principled person is one who believes in absolute truths instead of someone constantly seeking wisdom to experience the intangibility of it. Loved the video.

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