I started to write a reply to a post by Reach Upwards about flip flopping candidates. The reply really didn't fit his post. So, I decided to make it a post on my own blog.
Personally, I dislike the current obsession with flip-flopping. Flip-flopping is a necessary part of the process of deliberation. A world with a healthy system of discourse would see people flip-flop on a regular basis.
The ability to weigh different sides of a debate is the very heart of deliberation. People who never "flip-flop" simply are not engaged.
There is a whole slew of issues that pretty much demand flip-flopping.
Take the charged issue of abortion debate for example. This debate involves two distinct issues: The first is whether or not abortion is wrong. The second is the question of whether or not it should be legal. A person who holds that abortion is a great moral wrong must address the question of whether or not it is better to handle the question as a personal moral issue, or if it demands laws being in place. A person who is resolute on the underlying issue may flip flop on the secondary issue.
In most cases, it is bad for a politician to have too many solid positions on legislation. A politician who has too many solid positions will be intransigent in their actions.
IMHO, the best thinkers can see more than one side of an issue. If you give them compelling reasons to support your side; they will agree with you. When your opponent gives compelling reasons for their side, the thinker might agree with the opposition.
In some cases a person will agree with an argument simply as an acknowledgement that they understand or are processing the argument. A person who agrees with your argument but disagrees with your conclusion appears to flip-flop.
Agreeing with an argument is not the same thing as agreeing with the conclusion. For that matter, I don't think it is possible to properly understand any argument if you don't make an effort to understand and agree with the perspective of the argument.
When a person is engaged in the process of research, they should be flip-flipping all over the map. The necessary flip-flipping that occurs during research should not be confused with flip-flopping on fundamental issues.
The best thinkers will appreciate all of the sides of an argument.
Unfortunately, the converse is also true. The worst thinkers will tend to flip flop. Both the far left and far right use a really nasty form of manipulation called "the material dialectics." This method was perfected by Marx. With material dialectics, you wrap discourse in paradox. To a dialectician, words are weapons. When you engage in the method you spout whatever words give you an advantage.
The dialectician appears to be engaged in deliberation because both forks of their tongue wag at the same time. Such a dialectician is not engaged in an authentic search for the best path, they are simply engaged in dropping words as they attack enemies and reward friends.
A politician who is weighing every word against polls is not engaged in a pursuit of truth, but a pursuit of power.
The question of what leads to the flip flopping is much more interesting than the flip-flopping itself. For that matter, understanding why a candidate changed their opinion on an issue provides a deeper insight into the candidates mind than the stated positions themself.
The question we must answer when we see flip flopping is if it is an act of discourse or an act of manipulation. Unfortunately, this is difficult to determine.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry's enemies were trying to make the case that his flip-flopping was part of an over all pattern of manipulation. Unfortunately, Republicans seem to have fallen into a trap. They seem to have made the overt act of flip-flopping the issue and not the underlying duplicity.
The mainstream media, which is primarily Democrat, seems to have encouraged this misstep since it puts Republicans at a disadvantage.
By allowing flip-flopping to become the primary issue of the presidential race, Republicans have thrown up a block to their best thinkers.
In my opinion, this current thread of debate which makes the overt act of flip-flopping the issue ends up undermining our ability to engage in deliberation. Deliberation by definition requires weighing the different arguments. The best thinkers regularly engage in acts that can be labeled flip-flopping when they examine issues.
The trap is even more insidious. Since Republicans are caught in the trap of weighing the relative degrees of flip-flopping of their candidates, the enemies of the Republicans will be able to kick sand in the face of the Republican Party with accusations of absolutism.
I think more people are worried about more worried about the absolutism of a one dimensional thinker who is incapable of finding the best path for the nation than they are about this idiotic question of flip flopping.
I wish the leaders of the Republican Party had the wisdom to avoid such obvious traps. Unfortunately, just as the Democrats routinely drive their honest politicians away, the Republicans systemically drive their best thinkers away.
Both parties seem to be structured at the moment so that their worst elements float to the surface.