In Defense of the Flip-Flop

“I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself, who, also, shall, peradventure, be another thing tomorrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me.”  – Montaigne

The term flip-flop has become as ubiquitous in accusatory politics as the ridiculous “footwear” that bear the same name have become in the population at large.  I have to say that I prefer a change of mind to a precarious piece of rubber snapping at my heel.

In my mind, an elected official who never flip flops has ceased to think and learn.  Anyone who continues to collect and try to understand information on a subject will experience some movement in his opinions of the problem and the solution.  This developing understanding may not often cause a complete reversal of positions, but it will happen occasionally.  And as understanding changes—even if only a little bit—language, tactics, perceptions, preconceptions, goals, metrics, and meaning change.

Those who expect their elected officials—or anyone else, for that matter—never to flip flop have some serious misconceptions: either 1) that the official already knows everything or 2) that all new information that comes to light will support the official’s (or more truthfully, the supporter’s) stances.  Either way, the person is a fool.

Unfortunately, I think that in our Internet age when people are able to seek out exclusively those “media sources” that validate rather than inform, we will see less flip-flopping.  It will also fall victim to campaign contributions from the fringes, linked to particular issues.  As the people, the candidates, and the money circulate wildly in their echo chambers, there will be less time and opportunity for reflection and honest, respectful debate.

We should all respect a sincere flip-flop.  Who knows, we may learn something someday that puts us in the position of digging up the courage to do our own 180º turn.

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