Flip flops ain’t all bad

Author: Barrett Rainey

A few days ago, Barb asked me what I wanted for dinner and I said I was hungry for her wonderful goulash.

A couple of hours later, without paying attention that she had started dinner, I called out that meatloaf sounded even better.

Now, nearly everyone knows I had just “stepped in it.” Here she was draining spaghetti, browning hamburger and going through her seasoning checklist. Discussion of anything to eat at that moment was to be centered strictly on the goulash at hand and nothing else.

In this example, I had “flip flopped.” As I thought about her previous question in the ensuing 120 minutes, and as I rolled around the options in my mind, my thinking “matured.” I had new, more thoughtful – flavorful – visions. A change of mind as it were. Hasn’t that happened to you?

This little story about a threat to marital bliss is simple enough. But the process is much the same when some politicians change their mind about an issue. As a result, most are labeled “flip floppers.” It’s a quick, easy condemnation of someone in or seeking public office. At times true; at times not. At times good; at times not.

Take Ronald Reagan for instance. For much of his adult life, he was not only a Democrat but an ardent one, heading a labor union and walking picket lines. Then Barry Goldwater “appeared” to him and he was converted to Republicanism. A flip flop. But no one condemned him for it. Just a matter of adult reasoning. Personal choice.

Take former Oregon Governor Tom McCall. Republican by nature and philosophy, he put on a plaid tux jacket in the early ‘70’s and went to Idaho to campaign for candidate Cecil Andrus, a lifelong Democrat. Only the looney fringe couldn’t see the statesmanship and adult thinking, calling him a ”flip flopper” and a “traitor.” Actually he was demonstrating a level of adult political judgment he might not have shown in his earlier years, judgment that came with advancing age but which escaped the narrow-minded, flat-earth thinkers.

But this is a two-edged sword, this flip flopping. Sometimes, it can … and should … skewer the flopper.

Sen. McCain and his stands on abortion, wars and several other subjects come to mind. On record for years as pro-choice, even at the start of the 2008 campaign. Then he looked at some GOP polling midway through and changed sides. Classic “flip flopping.” Not because of maturity but opportunism. Not good.

Gov. Jindahl of Louisiana, is a flopper. Went on national TV decrying federal stimulus dollars then, seven months later, had a bunch of large, phony checks printed up with his statehouse official address on them. He flew around the state – at Louisiana taxpayer expense – handing out federal stimulus dollars masquerading as Louisiana tax dollars. That flip could cause whiplash.

As in so many other quick and often wrong labeling, there can be more … or sometimes … less truth when it comes to flips and flops. I give the benefit of the doubt most of the time. I like to think someone has added to life’s experiences and has rethought some previously held convictions; that the process of living longer has resulted in a better understanding of a particular issue.

Apply that to yourself. Recall some of your thinking when you were 15 or 25 or 40. Do you still feel that way or, like most of us, do you ask yourself “How could I have ever thought that?” Sometimes the flip and often the accompanying flop are just reflecting your own maturity and changing thought processes. Case in point: my mother was born Roman Catholic but died, at the age of 96, a 60-year Presbyterian. Somewhere in those years, as a thoughtful adult, she flipped.

Personally, I like an occasional change of direction in my politicians. Keeps me thinking. Them, too, I hope. The strident, never-going-to-change-my-mind-on-this kind of guy often doesn’t learn very much as he gets older. Since the only constant around us is change, we should expect some of that to rub off on in the way we all look at most things.

The doctrinaire, hold-one-position-on-everything approach isn’t showing me maturity when faced with the change we all have to deal with. Most of today’s problems won’t be solved by yesterday’s thinking.

But if flipping or flopping is tied to opportunism or playing to a certain base of support, that’s not healthy. (See McCain, Romney, Gingrich, Jindahl, Perry, et al) And it’s not good for anyone.

So you see, when someone tells you “so-and-so flip flopped” you’ve got to know more about the issue. And maybe you should know more about the guy that told you. Sometimes good. Sometimes not.

Comments are closed.