Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kathleen Parker Missing The Flipping Forest For The Trees

The former Spitzer co-host* once again woefully laments the perceived ideological rigidity of her conservative would-be-brethren. This time she's defending the “flip-flop”, with particular emphasis on Mitt Romney. Oddly, Romney is most recently in trouble for not flipping on global warming, which makes me wonder whether Kathleen Parker finished her bottle of wine before or after submitting her work this week.

* - (No, we will never let you live that down.)

But the problem is not merely that somebody change his or her mind, as Parker would have us believe. The Republican Party is filled with folks who changed their minds on issues large and small. Reagan made George H.W. Bush change his professed position on abortion in order to join the 1980 ticket. Dubya was against nation building before he tried to nation-build in Iraq. Pawlenty has reneged on his previous support of carbon cap-and-trade. Old-hand Republicans everywhere who once supported an individual health insurance mandate in the early 1990s have largely come to denounce the idea in the present. Rick Perry, who according to many liberal opinion writers seems to be the impossible love child of Barry Goldwater, Hitler, and Yosemite Sam, actually voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and supported Al Gore's presidential ambitions in 1988. If Texas can forgive Perry for these political sins, then so shall I.

Rather, the problems with flip-flopping are those of quantity and convenience. We can tolerate the occasional flip-flop of convenience, so long as it is rare. And we can stomach a large number of changed positions, so long as the changes are credible, as in the case of an ideological conversion or epiphany. But forgive us, oh wise Kathleen, for questioning the intellectual integrity of a politician whose positions change with great frequency and during awfully convenient circumstances.

Parker seems to empathize with John Kerry and his episode of “[voting] for the $87 billion, before [he] voted against it”. She calls these remarks, “unhelpful”. But Kerry's problem was not merely that he didn't explain himself, it was that his remarks betrayed what was at best a wishy-washyness to his support of the war effort, and at worst a cynical calculation to manipulate the domestic tax policy process by withholding critical funding for the war. Kerry's entire 2004 campaign was marked by his inability to convey clear policy messages. Even as he was on the cusp of receiving the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post complained about Kerry's “fuzziness on issues ranging from Iraq to gay marriage”.

The issue about flip-flopping is not that a politician might change his beliefs in light of new facts, but the concern that the politician has no real beliefs to begin with.

Kathleen, ask yourself what you suppose Mitt Romney really thinks about gay marriage. If your answer is anything other than an unhesitating confirmation of his stated position (-opposed), then perhaps you should reflect upon that.

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