Since when did changing our mind become a cardinal sin? Are we all so sure of the correctness of our opinions that we aren’t open to other points of view or the possibility that we may see the validity in another opinion and change ours? Do we believe that changing our mind somehow diminishes us or makes us less trustworthy? Should we need to fear the consequences? Will we be forever tagged a “flip flopper” for performing such a dastardly act? Why then, do we place our politicians in a box and not give them the same freedom to think and change their minds that we demand for ourselves?
In fact, there are three culprits involved in this situation. We the public, the media and of course the politicians themselves are all blindly pushing each other forward in this damaging exercise. It has become even more difficult as all three parties to this situation have become increasingly ideological, rigid and closed-minded. While we can cast aspirations in whatever direction we choose, the fact remains that the “public good” and the future of our nation have been endangered by the paralysis that has resulted in this kind of thinking.
In their book, Double Down: Game Change 2012, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, discuss presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s great concern that any perceived change of position would lead to his being tagged a “flip flopper”. As a result he continued to present himself as a supporter of the same “right-wing” positions that he took on to win the primaries and ultimately the GOP nomination. He did so with the clear understanding that these positions were too extreme for the general election. Yet, caught between moderating his positions to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate, or maintaining his more extreme positions to avoid an infamous tag, he chose the latter.
When President Obama finally stated his support for marriage equality he indicated that he had evolved to this position. Why should he have to somehow validate the fact that he changed his mind? After all, don’t we all want a President who is capable of weighing the facts and coming to a conclusion, even if it is contrary to what he initially felt? In Double Down, Halperin and Heilemann describe the fact that Obama’s statement regarding marriage equality was carefully planned as to avoid negative impact. Imagine that the President of the United States and his advisors were concerned about how this change of opinion would be received by the public even though hints as to this change had been rampant for some time. Yet, it seems that changing one’s mind, even if you are the President, is a dangerous action.
The paralysis that is so evident in Congress is clearly a result of this national ailment. Standing tough and “sticking to your guns” is seen as the only path. The word “compromise” has become a four letter word, and ideological purity has become the measure of integrity. We, the public, are both the losers and the instigators. We threaten to punish our officials at the polls if they change their minds and dare to make themselves ideologically impure. Unfortunately there are not enough of those constituents in a given district or state active enough to balance the opinion and provide support for change. Usually those who are most vocal are on the extremes.
The so-called neutral observer, the press, is anything but neutral. They sit in wait to catch an official who dares to change his mind on any given issue. Of course, most press outlets have a particular political agenda to uphold, and they do so by challenging acts of inconsistency with past decisions. They are quick to tag officials as “flip floppers” when all they are trying to do is act on what they understand to be the best course of action based on current information. The press serves as an indelible public record that is too often used destructively and tends to keep our officials in that box.
It is time to validate the act of changing one’s mind. If we demand that right for ourselves, we must also allow people in every walk of life that same privilege. To do so will enrich our lives as we accept a diversity of opinion and learn to respect it. Most importantly, it will remove the shackles of ideological purity from those we elect, and enable them to serve us with honesty and integrity.