Fact or Fiction?

I suppose it’s time I actually post to Headlife. And while today’s entry will be little more than an introduction, you can expect future blog posts to cover politics– ranging from issues like taxes to the environment to the military– the media, and perhaps some sports and leisure. You’ll probably also see a note or two devoted to academia and academic life, too.

But knowing what I’ll cover isn’t the same as knowing how I’ll cover it, or what stance I’ll take. I hesitate to recite here my stances on various issues: “I favor spending loads on the military,” “I want more environmental protections,” “Ann Coulter is a blight on our political discourse,” etc. This is in part because my views will become apparent over time (What’s my take on Cuba? Stay tuned to find out!), but also because I sometimes change my position on a particular issue.

Stop. I know what you’re thinking. “Uh-oh– he’s a flip-flopper!” Thanks to the latest barrage of RNC spin, changing one’s mind is now seen as a bad thing. The Bush campaign has used this to great effect against John Kerry. (The fact that many such claims are disingenuous at best is a topic for another post!) In addition, numerous web sites and publications have circulated various ‘flip-flops’ the President himself seems to have made.

For instance, back in October of 2001, the President’s press secretary noted that “the President has suggested to members of Congress that they do not need to make this a statutory post, that he [Ridge] does not need Cabinet rank, for example, there does not need to be a Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security is because there is such overlap among the various agencies, because every agency of the government has security concerns,” and so on. However, later the President urged Congress to do just that, saying “I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.” (This and other so-called flip-flops are courtesy American Progress Action Fund.) Taking a page from the RNC play-book, they charge that Bush’s changing position– first being against and then for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security— is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, framing the issue as one where a candidate did (=bad) or didn’t (=good) change positions means that the actual substance of the issue gets left behind. To put it another way, we are missing out on the real questions: why did the candidate change positions and (here’s the key) was it a good decision?

In the above example, we are only told that Bush is a flip-flopper on the question of the creation of the DHS. What we aren’t told is why this happened. Was it because of polls? Did certain changes to the proposed department make it more viable? Was he presented with new or better information on its role? Unfortunately we’ll never know, because the whys of the issue weren’t explained (and lets face it– besides some obscure websites and publications, not much is made of Bush’s ‘flip-flops’).

Returning to my original point, I submit now that I have changed and doubtless will, in the future, occasionally change my opinions on various issues. In addition, I argue that this is not a bad thing per se. I believe that too often, people become so wedded to a stance or position that they refuse to change it even when confronted with superiorly compelling reasons to do so. Inconvenient facts are brushed aside or minimized, while supportive facts are emphasized and repeated ad nauseum. Over time, untenable positions are maintained not because of compelling facts, but only through a delusional fiction.

This isn’t to say that everyone (or even most people) engage in such behavior. However, I worry that the rise of right-wing talk radio over the last two decades, and the huge popularity in the last few years of horribly partisan books from both sides (they have catchy titles like Coulter’s Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, Michael Wien, er, Savage’s The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military, or Molly Ivins’ Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America), more and more people act as though their political outlook were a sort of cult, adhering to positions because that’s what Republicans, Democrats, Greens, etc., are sopposed to support. These people buy the books or tune in to the radio/TV programs that support their views, happy that opposing views are filitered out. But I digress…

So in the future, it’s possible you’ll see me alter my stance on something here at Headlife. If so, don’t worry: it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, and it doesn’t mean I’m running for office. And it certainly it won’t be an indicator that I’m suffering from a mental illness. Instead, it simply means that I’ve likely done some more reading or thinking on it and changed my view accordingly.

But check on my sanity, just in case.

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2 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction?

  1. I change opinions like I change newspapers.

    I entered adulthood reading the <>Daily Telegraph<>, having been brought up in a Tory home and raised on a diet of <>Daily Mail<> Thatcherite vitriol.

    As a student I discovered the <>Guardian<> and thought myself terribly hip. Then, tired of feeling depressed about the world, I moved to the <>Independent<>, but quickly found that its “independence” only meant no-one was <>paying<> it to have lefty opinions.

    That’s the situation I left in England. When I return I’m going to give the <>Times<> a whirl…

    It’s the same with political parties. I toyed with joining the Liberal Democrats, but there’s something about Charles Kennedy that bugs me. Am I a Tory? Well, I’m a Mormon, so there’s a certain conservatism, but the British Conservative Party is a washed-up disaster. Do I like Blair? I loathe New Labour, but I find Tony wonderfully compelling to watch, and he makes life in the US as a British expat very pleasant.

    I flip-flop all the time, and I’ve got a Winston Churchill quote to back it up:

    <>A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.<>If he’s right, then I’ve been hearing a lot of fanaticism recently. It goes something like this: “We did nothing wrong in Iraq, we did nothing wrong in Iraq, we did nothing wrong in Iraq, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism…(loops ad infinitum).

    Like you Lancer, I’m a flip-flopper. But call me a Teva-er or a Birkenstock-er. It’s cooler (I think?)

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