In defense of flip-flops

Today’s political discourse excoriates politicians who have ever changed their positions. True, someone who changes his tune according to his audience or the polls demonstrates a lack of principle. But it is a good thing to change positions and even principles when those have been demonstrated to be wrong. Mitt Romney was once pro-abortion, but he since changed his mind and became pro-life. Barack Obama exhibited the knee-jerk anti-war sentiments of his leftwing friends, but when he saw how the surge was working and learned a little about the progress being made in Iraq, he modified his position, however slightly. John McCain used to oppose off-shore drilling, but now, in response to the new oil prices and the evident need for more supplies, he is now for it. These changes might be dismissed as cynical flip-flops to gain votes–though since when is it a bad thing to follow the desires of voters?–but they may show a commendable seriousness of mind. One could argue that our current administration has been plagued with this stubborn inflexibility and indifference to facts.

A major problem today, going beyond politics, is that in our current climate of relativism and the rejection of reason, people are impervious to persuasion, no matter what the evidence or the reasoning is. Individuals form an idea based on arbitrary prejudice or self-interest, and it is impossible to get them to change their minds. This is not standing on principle, it’s rejecting objective truth.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel Dueck

    There needs to be a better distinction between a genuine, gradual change of opinion and a “flip-flop” which is purely a politically motivated tactic. What we see in the case of Barack Obama, for example, is that his position changed suddenly as soon as the primary was over. I believe Romney’s change on abortion fits in that category as well, though I supported him over McCain. There is nothing inherently defensible about a flip flop in that sense.

    The whole reason we have a democratic republic and not a pure democracy is to create a protective buffer between the “desires of voters” and the needs of the country, which are not always in concert. If we want elected representatives to govern by the polls as a matter of “principle” then we should forget elections altogether and just hold weekly national referendums. But if not, we need to exercise a lot of discernment when a candidate says he’s changed his mind on something before defending his change as principled simply because he now agrees with us.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel Dueck

    There needs to be a better distinction between a genuine, gradual change of opinion and a “flip-flop” which is purely a politically motivated tactic. What we see in the case of Barack Obama, for example, is that his position changed suddenly as soon as the primary was over. I believe Romney’s change on abortion fits in that category as well, though I supported him over McCain. There is nothing inherently defensible about a flip flop in that sense.

    The whole reason we have a democratic republic and not a pure democracy is to create a protective buffer between the “desires of voters” and the needs of the country, which are not always in concert. If we want elected representatives to govern by the polls as a matter of “principle” then we should forget elections altogether and just hold weekly national referendums. But if not, we need to exercise a lot of discernment when a candidate says he’s changed his mind on something before defending his change as principled simply because he now agrees with us.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    I agree with Joel. A “flip flop” is not just about a politician changing his or her mind. Rather, it’s about an electorally convenient change of mind.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    I agree with Joel. A “flip flop” is not just about a politician changing his or her mind. Rather, it’s about an electorally convenient change of mind.

  • http://www.pluckedchicken.net Jesse

    “A major problem today, going beyond politics, is that in our current climate of relativism and the rejection of reason, people are impervious to persuasion, no matter what the evidence or the reasoning is.”

    Though evangelism isn’t technically the same as persuasion, would-be prospects see it exactly that way. So the situation you describe makes evangelism more challenging than it would be otherwise. A lot of people think they’ve made up their minds, so it’s not worth their time to listen to something else, especially something that may only be true for others. Add to that the personal isolation possible when we can filter out nearly every influence that may hope to reach us, and it’s no wonder that so many churches seem content with “evangelizing” those of other denominations instead of really communicating the Gospel to the lost. The latter activity is much more challenging, and often frustrating.

  • http://www.pluckedchicken.net Jesse

    “A major problem today, going beyond politics, is that in our current climate of relativism and the rejection of reason, people are impervious to persuasion, no matter what the evidence or the reasoning is.”

    Though evangelism isn’t technically the same as persuasion, would-be prospects see it exactly that way. So the situation you describe makes evangelism more challenging than it would be otherwise. A lot of people think they’ve made up their minds, so it’s not worth their time to listen to something else, especially something that may only be true for others. Add to that the personal isolation possible when we can filter out nearly every influence that may hope to reach us, and it’s no wonder that so many churches seem content with “evangelizing” those of other denominations instead of really communicating the Gospel to the lost. The latter activity is much more challenging, and often frustrating.

  • Trey

    Each flip and flop needs to be examined in context. The McCain change is based on a changing circumstance and he opposed off-shore drilling in the 1990s. His change is a gradual change over many years. In comparison, Obama and Romney changed when the political climate shifted. Either you are against the war (troops in Iraq) and abortion or you are not. It is quite telling, that all these positions changed in political seasons. I can understand McCain’s more because the gas prices are outrages and something needs to be done.

  • Trey

    Each flip and flop needs to be examined in context. The McCain change is based on a changing circumstance and he opposed off-shore drilling in the 1990s. His change is a gradual change over many years. In comparison, Obama and Romney changed when the political climate shifted. Either you are against the war (troops in Iraq) and abortion or you are not. It is quite telling, that all these positions changed in political seasons. I can understand McCain’s more because the gas prices are outrages and something needs to be done.

  • Trey

    I have had this question on my mind today. Please opine what you think. What if any objective truth exists beyond Scripture? Can we absolutely know of this objective truth apart from Scripture?

  • Trey

    I have had this question on my mind today. Please opine what you think. What if any objective truth exists beyond Scripture? Can we absolutely know of this objective truth apart from Scripture?


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