In Defense of the Flip-Flopper and Compromise

Does changing your mind — like Mitt Romney and other politicians have done — mean you lack the courage of your convictions?

Romney on abortion. Obama on same sex marriage. George W. Bush on taxes. And right here at home: Lieberman on health care, and Dodd on AIG bonuses. 

All together, now: Flip-floppers!

But I am here to advance the notion that there are two kinds of flip-flopping. The first — the worst sort — is pandering and is the worst form of power-grabbing.

The second is not only better; it’s preferable to a lifetime of unyielding, dogmatic stubbornness. And when a turn from dogma means compromise and progress for all, then I say, flip-flop away.

And while every politician would have the voting public believe that every flip-flop is the result of a newly-formed principled stand, we know better, don’t we? Do you really believe that Mitt Romney is pro-life, or do you think he changed his tune to appeal to a large and vocal social conservative faction to secure the presidential nomination?

And did President Obama not conveniently change his views on marriage in a timely fashion (thanks, Vice President Biden!), thus securing the vocal support of the social liberals who really have no choice but to support his candidacy anyway?

Yet there are undoubtedly principled flip-flops. One must certainly suspect that Obama, who promised to close the Guantanamo prison camp after taking office, discovered exactly why he couldn’t once he did. Funny how Guantanamo as an issue all but disappeared once February 2009 rolled around.

But we must applaud that decision, no? Clearly Obama discovered why shutting Guantanamo would be a huge mistake. For that, he deserves credit.

Imagine a world in which no one ever changed their mind or admitted they were wrong. Do you hold the same views today as you did 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago? Is not acknowledging that the other side maybe, just maybe, has a point the lifeblood of compromise? And do we not, as a nation, need bipartisan compromise desperately?

This past Sunday evening, I watched with interest as Mitt Romney spoke with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes. Romney appeared relaxed, confident and quite presidential (although a bit orange, truth be told, but perhaps that was just my television) as he described his policy plans should he win in November.  

Pelley pressed him on his economic policies, repeating the oft-heard criticism that Romney had not offered any specifics on how he planned to achieve sustainable economic growth. The devil’s in the details, said he.

Romney smiled and noted the country’s need, not just a desire, for a workable bipartisan plan. I paraphrase here, but the gist is that he would not approach Democrats with a preordained list of must-haves; instead, he would develop his policy together with the Democrats so that everyone can leave the deal table feeling like they contributed.

Real leadership-and ultimately, progress-means working together, he finished.


As I imagine what the next four years under President Obama would look like if he wins the election, I can’t help but shudder. Gridlock, higher taxes, stubborn rhetoric from both sides and, ultimately, little accomplished.

Governor Romney observed that while he led Massachusetts he worked with a vast Democratic majority (87 percent!) in an overwhelmingly liberal state. Yet under his leadership, the Massachusetts economy improved, largely as a result of increased revenues (fees, not taxes) and reduced state aid.

All together, now: Compromise.

Michael Volpe September 26, 2012 at 11:13 AM
To say Romney increased revenues in Massachusetts through "fees, not taxes" with a straight face must have been hard. As if it makes a difference to anyone whether it was a fee or a tax, other than Romney apologists torturing the truth. The truth took another hit by the suggestion that the lack of compromise and Washington gridlock is somehow President Obama's responsibility. It was the Republicans in Congress who decided their only goal was to defeat him in the next election, and to do nothing in the meantime with a record number of filibusters. I will be looking for that spirit of compromise from them when the President wins reelection, because the American electorate is just not that stupid. The majority of us know that the apologists have a ton of money to fill the airwaves with lies told many times, but that does not make them true.
Lucia September 26, 2012 at 11:56 AM
It is abundantly clear that the current occupant of the White House has given up on governing and is doing nothing but campaigning from this point forward. His state of the union speech was two hours of re-election rhetoric, with no substance to speak of, it’s all been heard before; unfulfilled promises that come with expiration dates, pie-in-the-sky policy proposals, designed for nothing more than political expedience. Obama has no record to run on, except one of failure. Unemployment is over 8 percent, our economy remains extremely weak, and under his radical policies, our national debt that has spiraled out of control. All the flowery rhetoric in the world can't hide Obama's massive record of job-killing, anti-economic growth policies. He truly has no substance, but is a tireless campaigner. It is so bizarre that people like Michael Volpe continue to support him, which might be an allegiance to the democrat party without thought of the consequences of his re-election or perhaps that liberalism truly is a mental disorder.
Michael Volpe September 26, 2012 at 01:39 PM
It was the Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars that caused our spiraling debt. Tax cuts that benefited the wealthy on the myth that they are 'job creators.' It was voodoo economics 30 years ago (when the smart President Bush said it) and it still is, but Romney clings to it because he gets millions from those wealthy people who want to protect themselves at our expense. Lies told many times, even with greater volume or personal insults, do not become truths. I have faith in the intelligence of the majority to see past this kind of rhetorical nonsense.
Lucia September 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Michael you are a typical democrat, after four years of obama's bad choices you are still blaming Bush.
Michael Volpe September 26, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Lucia, you are typical Republican, whining about deficits when the President is a Democrat, and silent when the President is a Republican. The last time we had a balanced budget in this country was when a Democratic President and Congress gave it to us. Reagan didn't do it. Bush 1 didn't do it. Bush 2 had a budget surplus when he was elected that he turned into a huge deficit. Why do Republican's think they have the moral high ground on deficits with that kind of track record? You see Lucia, these are facts, not rhetoric.
Michael Volpe September 27, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I am not the one with a problem getting their facts right. There were Federal budget surpluses in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. Then we sank into the pit of Bush mismanagement. Year Receipts Outlays Surplus or Deficit (–) 1998 1,721,728 1,652,458 69,270 1999 1,827,452 1,701,842 125,610 2000 2,025,191 1,788,950 236,241 2001 1,991,082 1,862,846 128,236
Ben Lasser September 27, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Lucia, under Eisenhower the tax rate for those making over $400,000 was 90%.
Lucia September 27, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I am neither a republican nor democrat. Here are the ratios of deficit to GDP for the past five presidents: Ronald Reagan 1981-88 4.2 % 1982-89 4.2 Average 4.2 George H. W. Bush 1989-92 4.0 1990-93 4.3 Average 4.2 Bill Clinton 1993-2000 0.8 1994-2001 0.1 Average 0.5 George W. Bush 2001-08 2.0 2002-09 3.4 Average 2.7 Barack Obama 2009-12* 9.1 2010-12 8.7 Average 8.9 *fiscal 2012 ends Sept. 30, 2012, so this figure is estimated Source: Economic Report of the President, February 2012 The results for President Bush are skewed by the 10.1 percent deficit/GDP ratio in fiscal 2009. A large chunk of spending in that year went to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. In fiscal 2009, TARP contributed $151 billion to the budget deficit, but in 2010 and 2011, $147 billion of that amount was recouped and thus reduced the size of the deficit during President Obama’s watch. (These calculations are complicated and are laid out by the Office of Management and Budget. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/spec.pdf, p. 49.)
Lucia September 27, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Part II - As for spending itself, during the George W. Bush years (2001-08), federal outlays averaged 19.6 percent of GDP, a little less than during the Clinton years (1993-2000), at 19.8% and far below Reagan, whose outlays never dropped below 21 percent of GDP in any year and averaged 22.4%. Even factoring in the TARP year (2009), Bush’s average outlays as a proportion of the economy was 20.3 percent – far below Reagan and only a half-point below Clinton. As for Obama, even excluding 2009, his spending has averaged 24.1 percent of GDP – the highest level for any three years since World War II.
Michael Volpe September 27, 2012 at 07:41 PM
and we're all still waiting for the Republicans in Congress to come to the table to help solve the problem...rather than filibuster their way to the next election. Here's the link you asked for http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals
Lisa Bigelow September 28, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Thanks for reading and commenting with very detailed posts! There's plenty of blame to lay at the feet of both parties. Next week's column will describe it in detail -- if you're interested, read Bob Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politics." Very revealing. Thanks again. Lisa B.
Steven DeVaux September 28, 2012 at 02:15 PM
A great book Lisa. Just finished reading it.
Steven DeVaux September 28, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Four more years. Think about it. Some people want more of the same, some people don't. My personal opinion is that the 2016 election is going to make this one look tame.


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