By Richard E. Vatz
2:35 PM EDT, May 3, 2012
What's that you say? You don't hear much about President Barack Obama's flip-flopping?
How about: 1) the Obama reversal regarding child farm-labor regulations; 2) the president's (to quote The New York Times) "revers[ing] his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures but implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp" (March 7, 2011); 3. the president's support of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, followed by his throwing him under the bus?
There are plenty more examples, but the inescapable truth is that there is much more mainstream news media coverage of former governor Mitt Romney's "flip-flopping" on health care, abortion, taking "no-tax" pledges, etc.
This is not intended to assert that Mr. Romney doesn't change positions; it is to point out that almost all politicians do so — and they should. In addition, I would argue that oftentimes the honing of positions does not constitute a major reversal or a flip-flop. Also, I would like point out that it is impossible for anyone to be perfectly consistent, and, if I may, I should like to quote Walt Whitman's "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself ..." (I think he later reconsidered.)
If a politician changes his position — but not the philosophy behind it — it may simply be an evolution of thought. People can and should grow. I certainly hope that one of my least favorite politicians, the late West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, changed his positions from what they were when he created a wing of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s.
The salient question is: Does an officeholder or an aspiring office holder change his or her positions due to political expediency, and if so, how often?
Mr. Romney changed his position on abortion, but it seems that genuine reflection and study led him to different conclusions. "Romneycare" does have many similarities with Obamacare, but his health policy for Massachusetts — as he has frequently said — is not a national mandate.
He changed his position on whether to sign a "no-tax" pledge. Why? I can find no explanation except political expediency.
President Obama's change of position on President Mubarak seemed to be guided reasonably enough by the exigencies of Egypt's revolution of a sort. What about his position opposing Labor Department regulations on children working with farm equipment? There is about the same number of fatalities now as before, so what led the president to change his mind and allow youngsters to use the heavy equipment? Political expediency, clear and simple.
And how about his Guantánamo turn-around? Well, the proposed change in policy posed a threat to the United States, so his reversal is acceptable, but it would have been nice to hear a confession to the effect that Republicans were correct.
The taunting charge of "flip-flopping," directed predominantly against Mitt Romney, appears to reflect political bias in reporting. It is an exaggerated issue, but not irrelevant.
Regardless, the differential between the two key presidential candidates on this issue is not reasonably dispositive in determining anyone's vote.
Professor Richard E. Vatz teaches at Towson University, where he specializes in political persuasion. He is the author of "The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion." His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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