Seeing Barack Obama backtrack on the issue of drilling for oil off the coasts has reignited a simmering debate -- when is a politician a "flip-flopper" and when is he/she merely responding to improved intelligence? A few years ago, when I was writing Polinaut, I challenged legislators to describe the last time they had their mind changed by a conversation with a constituent? None did.
If there's one label that's been known to stick to a politician -- flip-flopper is it.
Now, the St. Petersburg Times has today introduced the Flip-O-Meter:
Barack Obama was accused of flip-flopping on public financing, warrantless wiretaps and offshore drilling. John McCain supposedly flip-flopped on drilling and the Bush tax cuts. During the primary campaign, flipping charges were leveled against Hillary Clinton (torture policy), Bill Richardson (Iraq) and Mitt Romney (abortion).
We checked those accusations at the time and rated them on our trusty Truth-O-Meter. But after checking so many flip-flop allegations, especially lately, we realized they have become a major part of the campaign discourse. We decided that PolitiFact needed a new device to tell readers when a candidate had truly flipped.
The Flip-O-Meter was born.
Candidates are rated from "full-flop" to "half-flip." Find it here.
Tangent Time: "Flip-flop explored" (Grammar Grater)
I believe that every human being has the right to change their minds. Even presidential candidates. And what better time to change their mind is before the election instead of after the election has been won. If I have been researching the candidate that I am voting for, I would hope by this time I would have a grasp on what type of person he is.
The term "flip-flopper" is too overused, and bears too much of a negative connotation. I thought we were actually all flip-floppers to an extent unless we were actually brain dead. Why give a politician an incentive to not change there mind when they are faced with new facts. Let them have the privilege of learning just like the rest of us. I could understand if a politician waffles back and forth constantly on a position, but if they become convinced that a prior path they were pursuing is not really right after all, who would blame them for changing there mind.
Say what you will about Mr. Bush, the last thing he can be considered is a "flip-flopper". Ironically, if he did change his mind on many of his policies, his approval rating wouldn't be nearly as low.
The flip-flopper accusation is dangerous in that it tends to make a candidate dig in his/her heels even in the face of a rapidly changing situation. Bush is certainly an example, as is Obama's steadfast refusal to acknowledge and gains made with the inaptly named "Surge" in Iraq.
While the ability to re-evaluate positions as new facts emerge is laudable, too much of a good thing is not. I've never believed that an executive leader (aka president) should be a poll-watcher (or what I call a windsock) either. Some decisions, once made, need to be followed through on with stern resolve. In certain cases, vacillation in response to rapidly shifting public opinion is not desireable.
Some so-called "flip-flops" make sense and shouldn't be used as attack fodder. A newly reformed opinion on the question of off-shore drilling in response to increased oil prices might make sense and be quite defensible. On the other hand, cynical shifts in pledges regarding campaign finance might appear to be more self-serving than a reaction to shifting conditions.
I am more interested in a promise/action meter.