Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Flip by any Other Name

So, Is a “Flip” a “Flop”?

Politicians – and those who pay attention to them – are quick to accuse opponents of “flipping” or “flip-flopping” (a much messier thing that mere “flipping”) when they change their position on a issue.

“Flip” and “flop” are not nice sounding names so it is easy to demonize them. Likewise it is fashionable to demonize those accused of being “flippers”, “floppers”, and “flip-floppers”. Consequently, the usual reaction of a politician accused of such awful behavior is to deny that it occurred. Well, first one may simply “flip” quietly, in the privacy of their own psyche, and hope that no one has noticed. But inevitably someone will have noticed and then it is considered best to simply say that no “flip” has occurred, that the previous position was not clearly understood by opponents.

For me the issue isn’t whether a person has changed their opinion but why they changed it and whether they openly own up to the change, rather than attempting to deny having done so or pretend that the change is not a change at all. The one thing that can be said of the Obama team is that they openly announced their most recent “flip” and gave their rationale for it. We can take it or leave it, but at least they are not insulting our intelligence by claiming they have made no change.

There are many issues upon which I have “flipped” over the years; some on which I am currently “flopping”, not knowing what my ultimate position will be. Such behaviors can either show strength of character, when one is forsaking a wrong-headed position for a more sensible one, or it can show weakness if one changes merely to gain some unfair advantage or please some crowd. Of course the rightness or wrongness of such “flip-flopping” is often in the eye of the beholder.

The reason I’m “flipping” these things in my mind is because the President’s re-election team has “flipped” their position regarding the use of Super Pacs in elections. (See yesterday’s blog.)

The change doesn’t portend much good for the electorate in the coming year. One can hope that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Super Pacs will give honest employment to a large number of people. If my calculations are correct the $200,000,000 the Democrats and Republicans are expected to spend this year would give nearly 2,700 people a year’s employment at an annual salary of $75,000 each. (Alternately – and more in line with our current wage structure – it could provide one CEO a salary of $100,000,000 (with options in the event that the side he is working for wins) and 6,200 other people a minimum wage job for a year.)

But, alas, the production of Super Pac ads rarely qualifies as “honest employment.”

I want to say to the President, and the others who benefit from all that spending, “A plague on all your houses.” And yet, I don’t want the person who becomes our next president to have a “plague” upon his house. I live in that house too.

My ideal President is a person who “flips”, and sometimes even “flops” for a while – deciding whether to “flip”, or not – but does so on important issues, based on solid information, because to not “flip” would be to continue down a path that is detrimental to the wellbeing of our nation. He or she would quickly and honestly own the change in course and explain it to the rest of us.

In my memory I cannot think of many (any?) politicians or Presidents who have had the courage and moral integrity to do that. Instead they tell us that their recent “flip” was not a “flip” at all, and hope that we are dumb enough, or loyal enough, or corrupt enough to believe and defend them.

So, to answer my original question: a “flip” is not a “flop” if it is an honest acknowledgement that the pre-flip position was wrong or unproductive, and that the post-flip position is defensible on both practical and moral/ethical grounds. But it is still a “flip”. Don't try to hide it.

To quote a very wise old man I once knew, “A “flip” by any other name is a “flop.”

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