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Opinion

Flip-flopper or 'agent of change'

Changing our mind is how we progress – it's a sign of strength, not weakness

By Eileen Cook / February 4, 2008



Vancouver, Canada

Flip-flopping. A presidential candidate would almost rather be accused of strange foot tapping under a bathroom-stall door, than of daring to change their views.

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By the way the term is slung about – look to Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton – it's clearly implied that the voting public should never trust a flopper.

The flip-flopper charge has no party allegiance; both sides toss it around. Almost no candidate escapes the label, and it's become as heinous an insult as it gets. But it's time to rethink the whole flip-flopper issue.

I change my mind all the time and don't consider this to be a character flaw. Some issues I've flip-flopped on include:

•The existence of the tooth fairy;

•Whether or not giant shoulder pads were a good fashion statement;

•Certainty that an early boyfriend was the love of my life;

•Belief that Duran Duran is the great musical influence of our generation.

I'm distrustful of people who don't change their mind every now and again. If there were no flip-flopping, we might still be convinced that the earth was flat and that there wasn't a single illness that couldn't be made better by the liberal application of leeches.

Even though I'm no specialist in the area, the idea of NASA "staying the course" with a flat earth policy strikes me as a bad plan. On a personal level, I am very grateful medical science has flip-flopped on the leech issue. I'm glad I do not have to consider a strong leech-loyalty an attribute when choosing a healthcare provider.

In the face of new information we should be willing to ponder if what we think might, just might, be flawed. If a candidate's beliefs are too weak to stand up to scrutiny, then watch out: that's the problem candidates should worry about voters getting hip to, not that they've changed their minds.

Science and society would not have advanced if we were unwilling to change our views. Flip-flopping is how we progress; it's a strength, not a sign of weakness. For example, Barack Obama recently shifted his views on the viability of single payer healthcare system and Rudy Giuliani decided that people should vote for John McCain instead of him. At last, some clarity for the voter.

I don't care if someone running for office changed his or her mind on a particular policy issue. What I want to know (and no one ever seems to ask) is why did they change their mind? What information influenced their views? "A poll told me" isn't an answer that makes me comfortable. If you want to know the strength of a candidate's position, check to see if they consult a cheat sheet before speaking because they can't remember where they stand on an issue.

The ultimate irony in this presidential election is that the major buzzword is "change." No one wants to be a flip-flopper, but they all want to be agents of change. It appears recently that no speech is complete without inserting "change" at least every third word. It would seem that in the midst of all this change, at least some flip-flopping would be required. I would like the candidates to provide some clarity on the definition of change-agent versus flip-flopper so I can understand if I am supposed to admire them or not. Right now the definition seems to depend on who is speaking. If the candidate is discussing him or herself –change-agent; Discussing another candidate – flip-flopper. It's a fine distinction.

Although they wouldn't want the label for themselves, clearly the candidates support flip-flopping in the general public. If you're supporting another candidate they want you to change your opinion and vote for them. You wouldn't think they would want to be supported by a bunch of flip-floppers, but for some reason this doesn't bother them.

I'm proud to be a flip-flopper. I'm not ashamed to admit I change my mind once in a while (as past hairstyles demonstrate) and I don't plan to support any candidate who doesn't do the same.

The one issue that I hope no one flip-flops on is the importance of voting. I'll see you at the polls: I'll be the one still going back and forth over my options.

Eileen Cook's first novel, "Unpredictable" will be published in February. She is a US citizen living in Canada.

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