We Probably Shouldn’t Complain When Politicians Change their Positions – In a Democracy, that’s their Job.

One of the differences between a preacher and a politician is this:  when a preacher turns around and tells you that everything they’ve told you in the past year is wrong, you should probably consider a new congregation.

When a politician does it, they’re just doing there job.

I raise this important point because, in recent years and with the proliferation of video capture technology and DVR’s, media commentators have had a field day showing before and after footage of political actors “flipping” on issues, from abortion to climate change. I can’t quite put my finger on why this sudden obsession with consistency. However, it’s a mistake, and I’m here to point out what should be obvious: in a democracy, it’s a politician job to change his views to match those of the people he represents.

Here’s the thing: We The People are guilty of a lot of flip-flopping. Off the top of my head, I can think of ten things that we as Americans ‘were for before we were against,’ to paraphrase the illustrious John Kerry. Here goes:

  1. Not Allowing Women to Vote
  2. Staying out of Europe during WWII
  3. Banning the Creation of a Central Bank
  4. Forbidding Alcohol
  5. Invading Iraq
  6. Funding Missions to the Moon
  7. Microsoft
  8. Segregated Water Fountains
  9. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
  10. Shoulder Pads in Womens’ Suits

And that’s just the last 100 years. I wasn’t even trying. The point is, flip-flopping is an inevitable part of progress. Its just the way at is: one day, we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “you know what, I don’t think gay people should be second-class citizens.” And that’s that.

When it comes to politics, the best politicians should be in tune with these seismic, glacial shifts in popular sentiment, and it is their job, as democratic representatives, to change their policies in accordance with the views of the people they represent. Sure, a true visionary might have the foresight to support good policies before they’re popular. But we shouldn’t be concerned about them – politicians rarely receive flack for being ahead of the curve. Rather, the real undue criticism is leveled at people who were neither ahead nor behind the curve, and who watched the ground move beneath their feet. In our current, consistency-obsessed era, these people are afraid to adjust their positions because they fear that someone will dig up an old VHS where they said the exact opposite.

Well, we shouldn’t let that happen; we should celebrate that, unlike in Zimbabwe or Belarus, our leaders have the right incentives to change their policies to match our views. From banning slavery to ending prohibition, we’re a nation proudly flip-flopping into a better, more tolerant, and more progressive future. We should give the people represent us the leeway to flip-flop along with us, like a pair of caffeinated toads.

Because you know who never flip-flopped?


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