COMMENTARY | The derogatory epitaph "flip-flopper" has been applied liberally during this presidential campaign season, primarily to describe Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. But a new article by ABC News reporter Z. Byron Wolf questions the appropriateness of condemning a candidate for changing his mind.
"It's supposed to be a sign of a faulty character," Wolf writes, "But flip-flopping can be a good thing. Our best presidents did it. Our best candidates are doing it now." I'm not sure I agree with the "best candidates" comment, but Wolf has a point. Changing your mind can be a good thing.
In fact, I'd be a whole lot more concerned about a person who never examines his beliefs with a critical eye than one who's made a few revisions. We add new information and new experiences to our understanding of the world every day. If we keep our minds open we are all bound to flip-flop on some of our beliefs every now and again.
That's not to say every change of heart is pure. Romney has been accused of changing his position for political gain, rather than because he truly "saw the light." I'm not privy to his private thoughts, and I don't believe that his public behavior has been extreme enough to make that call.
However there are people who's opinions ebb and flow like the tide, pushed in one direction or another by the needs of the moment. That type of behavior is reprehensible and, most importantly, dishonest.
Cain has a completely different problem. He flat doesn't seem to know what his opinion is on a lot of issues. His confusion may in part be attributable to his lack of experience in politics.
He gets himself in trouble when he tries to write his own policy on the fly, as when Wolf Blitzer asked him whether he would free prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for an American hostage. Cain responded in the affirmative, then later realized that this is essentially the same as saying he would "negotiate with terrorists," which he opposes.
Cain is just beginning to think through all the complex issues he would face as president, which shows he isn't ready for that responsibility. But at least his flip-flops are honest. As far as I'm concerned, it's ok if he continues to change his mind.
- Mitt Romney
- Z. Byron Wolf