Patrick Ruffini writes a defense of flip-flopping, arguing, essentially, that it shouldn’t matter because candidates are locked into the positions they take during a campaign, and cites Bush I & II as well as Clinton as examples of presidents governing more or less the way they ran. I disagree with Ruffini’s historical analysis, as well as his general defense of flip-floppery.
Conservatives may have known Bush the elder was no Reagan, but he sounded pretty convincing when he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” And he lied. Bill Clinton also called for a middle class tax cut, but reversed himself shortly after taking office. I’m sure I could think of plenty more examples of presidents going back on promises that were central to their campaigns.
My problem with flip flopping is that the pressure presidents are under is so great that I want to elect a leader who I know has a strong set of bedrock principles that will remain solid no matter what the challenges of office. If a politician has a long track record of doing just what is politically expedient, I don’t know whether I can rely on that leader during tough times. Especially during a time of war.
This doesn’t mean that a politician can never change his or her mind on any issue ever. Circumstances change, human experience changes, and it’s perfectly healthy for people to constantly reevaluate their own views. Also, when a politician is campaigning, he or she is asking for the votes of a particular consitutiency, so there’s a certain back and forth, a certain level of accommodation that we can reasonably expect to take place. However, when the level of flip-flopping reaches a certain point, I think it is a problem.
So, in the context of the current Republican nomination battle, I think we have to differentiate between the type of policy shifts being displayed by most of the field, and Mitt Romney, who deserves a category all to himself. Romney’s political opportunism, his utter phoniness, the sheer quantity and magnitude and timing of his shifts, is simply without parallel. So, I have no reason to believe that he won’t undergo another transformation down the road.
Honestly, after conservatives spent two successive campaigns arguing that the Democratic nominees couldn’t be trusted to run the country because they were flip floppers, it’s surprising that we would even be having this debate.