In Defense of Flip-Flopping

I thought it would take a little while longer for my blogging to slow down. But nope, the semester is already moving at full speed. Busyness sneaks up on you–no matter how hard you try to stop it.

Last week, we hosted a CouchSurfer in our apartment here in D.C. for four nights (If you are not familiar with the site, CouchSurfing is like hitchhiking for the 21st century. It’s a great way to travel if you are in your twenties and like to meet people each place that you go. Check here for more information). I also got to see First Lady Michelle Obama in person for the first time at this event. She was confident, charming, and taller than I imagined.

But all of that is completely irrelevant. What I want to write this post about–and I promise I’ll keep this one brief so that I can finish my Russian History homework–is the virtue of changing your mind.

Flip-flopping became a bad word during the 2004 election. Remember John Kerry’s infamous “I was for it before I was against it” line (or was it “I was against it before I was for it?”). Regardless, it seemed that the public consensus was: we want our leaders to be consistent. Consistency just seems like a positive quality, right?

Well,I think the consensus was wrong.

I started thinking about this when reading a dusty old paperback from a used bookstore in Seattle: American Political Tradition, by Richard Hofstadter. The chapter on Thomas Jefferson “The Aristocrat as Democrat,” ends with a quote by ol’ TJ himself:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and institutions….But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regime of their barbarous ancestors.

He had a way with words, huh?

So is Jefferson right? Or would you be upset with a politician who changed his or her mind after you elected them into office, even if they explained why they changed their mind?

I guess the larger, age-old question is: Do we vote for politicians because they hold our own views, or because they have demonstrated that–regardless of the issue–they will consider all potential arguments and articulate the logic behind their decision? You might be able to tell by my wording that I vote for the latter.

What about you?

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