Lloyd Garver: In praise of the biggest political sin
Candidates have been calling their opponents names throughout history. Here in America, they've been called "a hell-raiser," "a tax-raiser," ""an abolitionist," "a pro-slaver," "a hawk," "a dove," "a communist," "a fascist," "an intellectual" or "an idiot." But lately, there is one charge that is capable of doing in a candidate more than any of the others. It is the accusation that someone is a "flip-flopper."
I'm not sure when flip-flopping became the greatest of political sins, but it seems to have established itself as No. 1. Not only do candidates charge each other with flip-flopping, but newspapers, television shows and Internet blogs dissect every word a candidate has ever uttered and every vote he has ever cast searching for a fatal flip-flop.
Admittedly, some of the flip-flops by both presidential candidates in the current campaign have been formidable. This being an Olympic year, a few of their maneuvers might be deemed "double somersaults with a twist." But I don't want to go into the specifics of each of their flip-flops here. I want to talk about the flip-flop itself.
Obviously, if a candidate changes his or her position on an issue for purely political reasons, voters and journalists should be cynical about that new position. But even if politicians change their positions because they've studied the issues and changed their minds, or if the situation has changed, they're still attacked as a dreaded flip-flopper.
Why should it be an important quality for a politician to never change his or her mind? Why is it considered good if someone sticks to a position even if it's obvious to everyone that he or she is wrong? I know of a certain president who seems to pride himself on not being a flip-flopper. No matter what the evidence, he's always stuck to his position that the war in Iraq was necessary. Throughout, no matter how disastrous things were going, he's always said that the war was progressing well. (I think he still may believe there were weapons of mass destruction there). He's never admitted that the way we've borrowed money from China and other countries has caused problems for us. In fact, when President Bush was interviewed at the Olympics, he stated that America "doesn't have problems."
Do we really want another president who never admits he's wrong and never changes his positions?
Think about your everyday life. Who do you like better: the guy who stubbornly insists he's right even when all the facts show he's wrong, or the guy who says, "I'm sorry. I was wrong about this." Who's the better doctor, the one who stands by his original diagnosis despite new information, or the one who says, "The new tests reveal I was wrong?"
And in personal relationships, are you happy with your spouse or significant other when he or she sticks to an opinion no matter what? Of course not. We prefer to be with someone who is "big enough" to flip-flop at times. We have respect for people who say things like: "I wasn't going to vote for that guy you like, but after reading about him, now I will." "Wow, I guess a person can be too thin." "You're right. I shouldn't have turned left there." "Now that I've gotten to know her, I don't find your old college roommate that annoying." "I'm still not going to try rabbit, but I admit it – snails do taste good." "I was wrong. A mattress can be too hard."
So why do we insist that our political officials should never change their minds about anything? Flip-flopping has somehow gotten a bad name. Maybe we should change its name from flip-flopping to something else. How about instead of flip-flopping we call it, "changing one's position after reconsidering an issue?" That's perfect.
Who am I kidding? That's way too long. Stupidest name I ever heard. How about changing a flip-flop to something just as catchy but without the negative connotation? We could call it a "dipsy-doodle." There.
No, somehow "dipsy-doodle" doesn't sound substantial. Maybe we should just go back to "flip flop." Or we could try ...
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached email@example.com. Check out his Web site atlloydgarver.com and his podcasts oniTunes.