The Wisdom in Flip-Flopping.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jul 11, 2012
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“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell

Recently, a Ron Paul fan and friend of mine insulted Obama in regards to his “evolution” on gay rights (last month, Obama came forward in clear but personal support of full and equal marriage rights for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters).

“Obama’s a flip-flopper,” my friend said. Just look at this video from a few years back of him saying he only supported Civil Unions.”

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” – Muhammad Ali

Only in America, even after eight years of Dubya’s certainty, would “flip-flopping” be considered a political insult. Changing one’s mind is, or can be, a positive thing, of course. Evolving one’s views based on an ever-changing world just makes sense. Being open—listening—to other’s views and opinions and information and, you know, facts—is a virtue.

Especially for elected “representatives.” They are leaders, yes, but they are also representatives, and public servants.

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. – C. S. Lewis

So the question is not whether flip flopping is good or bad. It can be either. The question is, are our views evolving in the direction of openness, compassion, understanding, tolerance, and responsibility? Or are they evolving in the direction of party-line, stinginess, aggression, selfishness, and a dissembling sort of hypocrisy about one’s prior views?

Do we have a core set of values? We must. Should we evolve, around those values?

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” ~ John Maynard Keynes


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


10 Responses to “The Wisdom in Flip-Flopping.”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Hey, I have to come to the defense of your Ron Paul friend. In politics, flip-flopping is rarely evolution. It’s just politics. Ok, the charge was a bit over the top since all politicians do it. But I doubt that Obama is such a slow learner that he only recently evolved to support gay rights. What he recently did was realize the time is right, politically, to “come out.”

    And the steadfast George Bush? According to Fareed Zakaria (an Obama supporter, btw) , G.B. realized during his first term that “certainty” in foreign policy wasn’t working, and radically changed his style, even though no one noticed. Obama, according Zakaria, is basically following a second term George Bush foreign policy.

    And great lead quote by B. Russell! Perfect for libertarianism, the only political philosophy that recognizes we DON’T actually know too much. Belief that you actually know, according to Hayek, is “the fatal conceit,” “the pretense of knowledge.” “The strange task of economics is to explain to people how little they know about what they believe they can design.”

    Great quotes by Ali and Lewis, too. Keynes, though, had a problem. He was one of the ones who believed he knew how to design things. At least he was flexible enough about his fatal conceit and pretense of knowledge to “change” to a different way of design when the previous way wasn’t working. (Well, actually, he wasn't but nice flexible quote, anyway.)

    Good day!

  2. elephantjournal says:

    On your first point, I generally agree: but I would say that that is precisely what a skilled leader's role is: to lead, but only a bit, and wait for the public support to be there before taking another step forward. This is what FDR did, for example, in the leadup to WWII.

  3. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Funny how these wonderful leaders keep leading us into war. I much prefer non-leaders such as Jeanette Rankin, the first woman in Congress, 1917.

    On her very first, and therefore highly symbolic vote, she was faced with the question of war. The suffragists wanted her to vote 'no' so as not to give a bad name to the movement but, like MLK faced with similar objections from other civil rights leaders four decades later, she recognized war is the more important issue.

    24 years later she arrived in congress for her second term, just in time to become the ONLY vote against war. She recognized that FDR had led the nation into a war it didn't want. She was considering a third run for congress in the late 60s to oppose the Vietnam War when she passed away.

    Personally, I prefer the 'leaderless' Swiss. Many Swiss, I have heard, don't even know who their president is. Leadership is that unimportant. When you don't have a leader, you have no one to lead you into war.

    Sorry! Defense of FDR's wonderful leadership, I'm afraid, is always a stimulus for an anti-leadership tirade.

    G' day to all of you!

  4. LibertyLover says:

    Obama is a lethal president:

    He also uses social issues in a election year to keep supporters full of HOPE and BELIEF that they haven't been totally duped yet again.

  5. Libertylover says:

    Obama's War on medical marijuana:

    Flip-flopper or hypocrite?

  6. I like squirrels says:

    "Necessity is the argument of tyrants, it is the creed of slaves"
    FDR also claimed 'necessity' and rounded up people, expropriated their property and put them in concentration camps. based on the color of their skin, or the shape of their eyes.

  7. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Of course it's not just Obama. In the age of empire, both parties claim to be putting forth the best leader, as empire requires it. Just today, Romney said,

    Being president is about leading and President Obama has failed to lead.

    God save us from leaders.

  8. accounting says:

    Awesome post Waylon. I love the insight! These kind of posts are what make EJ awesome!

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  10. elephantjournal says:

    Via Reddit: This "flip flopper" designation is one of the dumbest, most manipulative terms invented in 21st century politics.

    Should we value integrity? Yes. But we should also value flexibility, education, adaptation, and compromise.

    If you take just about any politician, she will have taken a stance on many issues — let's say she is anti-abortion and pro-defense, so she's a "conservative" — and then she's elected and she's called to many votes. Congress doesn't vote on single issues, every bill comes with a complex mess of riders.

    So the Department of Defense appropriations bill comes up, and our made up representative wants to vote in favor. But wait, it turns out that there is a rider to the bill that also ensures that veterans can access contraception and abortion services through the VA. And our representative is against that.

    Now, let's look at how she votes:

    If she votes in favor of the bill, she can advertise for the next election that she held true to her commitment to "support the troops." Some independent voters may feel its good she's taken a nuanced stance — in favor of defense, while compromising on abortion. So she gains a few votes. However, a political opponent in her primary will argue that she "flip flopped" on her anti-abortion stance, because she voted in favor of abortion at the VA. These ads are run during the primary, which she ultimately wins anyway. Now her opponent gets to run ads saying, "even her own party can't get behind her, because she's a 'flip flopper'."

    If she votes against the bill, she might go to the press and put out a statement saying, "While I see the need to allocate money for our national defense, it's unconscionable that my opposition would link that money to a controversial issue like abortion. We need a new bill that funds defense, without abortion." Some independent voters hear this and agree; that muddling multiple issues is messy and unnecessary. Her opposition in the general elections puts out ads saying "the candidate is big on talk, but when it came time to support our troops, she was unwilling to allocate the money needed to support the war in Xblankistan." Or "apparently the war on women is more important than the war on terror."

    She abstains or votes "present." She might do this because she knows the bill is going to pass, and her vote either way isn't going to have the impact she wants. In any case, she doesn't want to be "on the record" as a "flip flopper" on the issue of defense. Now, she's not at risk of that label, but she's been elected and she's not really doing anything.

    Obviously, an oversimplified example. And one could easily critique that having big spending bills with multiple issues is a problem, but that problem isn't going anywhere. It's actually the system of compromise that exists in Congress. A minority party may not be able to get their bills to the floor, but they can attach some subset of their agenda to the major bills of the majority party, so that the majority will vote in at least part of the minority agenda.

    Effectively, unless you're talking about a single issue and the candidate's own stance changing for no reason, the term "flip flopper" is useless. A vote in Congress is almost always about multiple issues at once. A person's vote can change for many reasons, including personal experience (I was against gay marriage, then I actually got to know some gay people, now I realize that its not the government's role to decide who marries whom) and education. If people can't change their stance on an issue without being called a flip flopper, then the only thing that they can do is tow the party line and spin, spin, spin so that nobody realizes they're not committed to anything.

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