When ‘flip-floppery’ matters, and when it doesn’t

Kathleen Parker makes the case in her latest column that the political world’s preoccupation with politicians’ “flip-floppery” is misplaced. At first blush, the argument seems more than fair.

A politician may be able to survive cavorting with prostitutes, sexting with coeds and commingling with interns, but heaven forbid he should change his mind — the transgression that trumps all compassion.

Or thinking.

After all, thinking can lead to that most dangerous territory for a politician — doubt — and, inevitably, the implication that dare not be expressed: “I could be wrong.”

At a certain level, this strikes me as persuasive, because there’s nothing inherently offensive about a political figure changing his or her mind once in a while. Policy makers come to one conclusion, they gain more information, and then they reach a different conclusion. That is, to be sure, a good thing — it reflects a politician with an open mind and a healthy intellectual curiosity. Better to have a leader who changes his or her mind based on new information than one who stubbornly sticks to outmoded policy positions, regardless of facts or circumstances.

But — and you had to know a “but” was coming — what Parker is describing are sincere changes of heart, which certainly occur. It’s something else entirely when pandering politicians reinvent themselves, sometimes more than once, as part of a cynical, calculated ploy. This isn’t indicative of an open mind; it’s actually indicative of a character flaw.

Parker’s column, for example, seems inclined to absolve Mitt Romney of his flip-flopping sins. And in instances in which the former governor came to new conclusions after earnest reevaluations, I’d be inclined to cut him a fair amount of slack.

The problem with Romney, though, is that there’s nothing remotely sincere about his repeated reinventions. The guy has demonstrated a willingness to flip-flop like no other American politician in a generation.

Romney was a pro-choice supporter of gay rights, gun control, and comprehensive immigration reform. He’s reversed course on everything from economic stimulus to health care, the auto-industry rescue to foreign policy.

I’ve almost lost count of his iterations. Romney 1.0 was an independent who distanced himself from Reagan and H.W. Bush. Romney 2.0 was a moderate Republican who passed health care reform. Romney 3.0 was a social conservative who cared deeply about the culture war. Romney 4.0 is a hysterical Mr. Fix-It who fears the death of capitalism.

I’m perfectly comfortable with a politician pondering doubts and questioning whether he or she is right about an issue. But when a politician changes his views so fundamentally that he’s adopted several different worldviews in a fairly brief time span, is it really unreasonable to question the man’s integrity?