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Flip-Flops or Honest Concessions?

Chen Zhao

Flip-flops used to refer to sandals much favored by girls who hate the idea of balancing their entire body weight on a narrow stick. Nowadays, when I hear the term “flip-flop,” I think John Kerry. That alone is testament to how effective the Bush propaganda machine is.

I’ve spoken to undecided voters who, when asked about Kerry’s cons, call him a flip-flopper and then fail to point out exactly what he’s been flip floppy about. When asked to name an instance when Kerry’s changed his stance on an issue, they simply stare. So why do they think that Kerry’s so indecisive? Because the Bush campaign has told them that he is. Nobody thinks that Dick Cheney is a flip-flopper even though he’s actually changed his mind on the issue of gay marriage. Back in 2000, Cheney said that the issue should be left up to the states. Then in 2004, he retracted that position in order to support Bush’s attempt to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Now, regardless of whether John Kerry has actually been a flip-flopper, what exactly is wrong with amending one’s position in light of new information and new times? One of Kerry’s best answers in the series of debates came in response to Bush calling his supposed indecisiveness a character flaw. Kerry said, “But this issue of certainty: it’s one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. It’s another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right.”

I plainly reject that notion that the president should be a “common man (or woman)” because the president represents 270 million Americans and should be the best of the best. In the sudden death round of any team competition, no team sends the average person out to compete. However, in this case, let’s compare the presidential decision making process to ours.

When making any decision, we consider all the information at hand and then reach a verdict based on what we know. Upon reaching said verdict, we are committed, but remain open to the possibility that another decision could become more sensible should any new pertinent information come to light. So if new information does arise and we change our minds, nobody will fault us for being indecisive. In fact, we would call people who refused to change their minds in light of new information stubborn and irrational.

Why don’t we hold our politicians to the same standards? Our government made certain claims about Iraq and Bush told us that we should invade based on those claims. Some people decided that, should diplomacy fail and the international community show support for invasion, the U.S. should invade as long as those aforementioned claims were true. When the claims fell through, many people who initially supported the invasion retracted their support. This seems to make sense. Action X is good if reason Y exists. If reason Y no longer exists, then we can only conclude that action X was a mistake. Insisting that action X was the right thing to do would actually seem to be a sign of foolish obstinacy.

Actually, wouldn’t it be only logical to conclude that whoever decided on action X should apologize to those hurt by his decision? Shouldn’t President Bush apologize for invading Iraq? Of course, we cannot fault him for the invasion if all the information he had supported his decision. However, we can fault Bush for not doing everything in his power to uncover and adapt to the new information that has been revealed since the invasion.

The president cannot apologize though. By the standards that we hold our politicians to, they cannot admit to making a mistake. So rather than being allowed to show the admirable ability to consider issues with real depth and flexibility, they are forced to demonstrate only a primitive stubbornness that clings desperately to a position even when it has been proven insensible.

In a way, the politicians do this to themselves. They will jump on another person immediately if that other person shows the slightest hint of changing his mind. What if President Bush apologized to the American people, other countries insulted by the administration, and the Iraqi people? Realistically, Democrats would probably never let him live it down. I would like to think, though, that people would say, “The President is very courageous to apologize for being wrong. I really admire somebody who can do that.” Could that happen in American politics?

Perhaps, what American politics needs more than anything else is politicians willing to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong,” and people willing to accept their apologies. After all, we do so in everyday life all the time.