Flip Flops, Political Expedience and the Arc of Justice

America’s Story inside the Dome of the U.S.Capitol Building | Photo by J. Koskinen

I’m still trying to break the habit of listening to the news while I work. At least not all day.

Most days I fail miserably. Yesterday, the direct result of this failure was that my editing hours were accompanied by repeated triggers on the news, riling me up about an issue that perpetually bugs me: the tendency journalists and citizens alike seem to have to tear to shreds any politician who dares to evolve on a policy position.

Frustrated with what I was hearing, I posted a non-partisan plea on Facebook:

Journalists: PLEASE stop bashing politicians when they evolve on policy for the better. Maybe ask what convinced them. Maybe ask a question that will give us new insight into their evolution. Maybe applaud them for being self aware enough to evolve.

The dialogue which ensued on my post— specifically that of people mistrusting a “flip-flop” because it might be “politically expedient” or “opportunistic” — actually helped clarify something for me.

The thing is, if someone changes a long held stance to a new, better position, my first instinct is to shout from the rooftops that I don’t care if it was “politically expedient,” as long as it’s better. It’s a win.

But the more I think about it…

Isn’t our fundamental job, as informed citizens who hold the power of the vote, to CREATE “political expediency?”

In essence, isn’t this exactly how policy change is driven?

If we got someone to come to our side on an issue, why then is our instinct to trash them for not always having been there?

So why do we mock and deride a politician for considering “political expediency” in weighing their policy views. The main concern people seem to express is that a politician might change again with the winds.

I get that.

But to this I say: OUR JOB as citizens is to keep the winds blowing in the direction of progress.

It’s lazy of us to expect otherwise.

So if “political expedience” leads to a politician evolving to have a more progressive view on gun policy to meet new concerns of her or his constituency? Even if just to get elected again? GREAT.

If “political expedience” leads to a more inclusive policy for ALL women to have access to reproductive choices? HALLELUJAH.

If it becomes imperative in the public eye for politicians to embrace the science of Climate Change as issue — even if only because it’s finally becoming popular? I say, FUCKING FANTASTIC! Especially if this sense of “political expedience” leads to comprehensive policy changes which might NOT lead to catastrophic collapse of humanity before my son reaches his 50th birthday.

Lord knows I evolve in my thinking (daily). Expecting a politician to stay stuck in old policy positions if they realize they’ve been thinking of an issue too narrowly strikes me as asinine. I’d rather have a policy maker who has the self-awareness and guts to evolve than one who thoughtlessly stays stuck in an old paradigm. Any day of the week (and twice on Sundays).

I’ll add for the intelligent cynics among us, that one of my favorite words in the English language is integrity for good reason. Factoring integrity into this conversation I will admit that yes, of course, we have to keep our eyes open for inauthentic policy-shifters.

But I believe we are smart enough to spot — especially if journalists ask thoughtful questions and give space to actually listen to answers — the politician who is evolving on an issue with integrity from one who might have no intention of follow through.

And fundamentally THAT is the real question.

To that end, I wish journalists would stop reverting to knee-jerk accusations of “flip-flopping” and instead ask questions that help us — as citizens — to observe and make informed judgements as to the authenticity of a policy shift.

“What changed your mind?”

“Did other politicians or your constituents influence your decision and in what way?”

It might even be worth asking, “How did you reconcile this new position with your long held beliefs, and are you worried your opinion might shift again?”

And then they need to listen. So that we can listen.

If journalists help us understand a positive shift by asking good questions, they have the power to enlighten and even possibly bring others along on a social, cultural, environmental or economic paradigm shift.

This is WHY an informed and involved electorate MATTERS.

Which is WHY responsible journalism MATTERS. So much.

And this is how we could work together to navigate the winds of change with real thought, rather than soundbites.

photographer | writer | creative

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