Friday, August 03, 2007

Hypocrite, or Thoughtful Reconsideration?

Let's take a step back in time for a moment, as I illustrate a point.

Fourteen years ago I was just about to turn 21, I was working and going to school and living on my own. I pretty much had it all figured out. Not unrelated to the point of the story, I had stopped going to church at 18 when I started college and was still separated from the church.

I had a friend who I would argue with, just for fun. At the time, I had changed substantially from the kid who grew up idolizing Reagan to a, shall we say, fully indoctrinated product of my schooling. One particular disagreement I remember quite well was abortion. While I didn't support it, I argued, who was my friend to tell someone they couldn't make that decision?

Over time, my ideas changed, of course, and I once again found conservatism of the brand I grew up with. Now then: am I today a hypocrite for changing my mind? Am I a flip-flopper? Fourteen years ago, I said one thing; today, I say another. Suppose for a minute I decided to run for State Representative or County Board. Does that ambition suddenly make me a hypocrite or a flip-flopper? Would my opponent be justified in labeling me as such? Having seen the error of my ways, am I unfit as a candidate and worthy of scorn?

McCain came out today and had a change of heart about his position on illegal immigration. Should I rip him a new one, or be thankful that he gets it? Should I presume that I know what is in another person's mind and heart, and pronounce them guilty of political expediency? Or is it appropriate to give a candidate the benefit of the doubt and recognize that human beings use reason to refine their thinking and become better people?

I'm particularly fascinated in the charge of flip-flopping that is routinely leveled at Romney; most often it has to do with his stated position of the legality of abortion in his race against Kennedy in 1994.

So, here's the question: are you allowed to change your mind - rightly so - so long as you're not a public servant or a candidate for public office?


Terry Morris said...

MT, good question...

I think for me the toughest part of forgiving someone like McCain et al, is that they're old enough, and should be wise enough to know better.

In this sense the term 'flip-flopper' applies particularly to older, more experienced folks than it does to a 21 year old college student who's going through a stage of questioning his own beliefs. We've all been through that. Some of us just decide it's time to grow up, others don't, that's all.

This is not that tough of a question for someone who's been around as long as McCain and Co. And I think it's a lot like Clinton getting caught in his excesses. Which is to say that he was sorry for getting caught, and that amounted to very little regret, if any on his part. He was not remorseful in the least about what he'd done to defile the office of the Presidency; not in the least. And I'd bet my last dollar that he's engaged in the same kind of behavior since.

While I think McCain deserves some measure of the benefit of the doubt on this question, I don't think that we should in any way let this recent reversal of his convince us without further evidence of the same securing it as a genuine change of heart. But genuine changes of heart are usually long in coming, and they generally don't result in an immediate reversal of an opinion.

Let us not forget that McCain has shown himself to be a RINO on numerous occasions in the past, despite his service during the Vietnam war.


Michael Tams said...


Candidly, I'm less inclined to give McCain the benefit of the doubt, myself. Is it because he's 70-something years old and should know better? Is it because he's proven himself many times to be the enemy of conservatism (see: reform, campaign finance; Fourteen, Gang of; and America, the Senate immigration sell-out of)? Is it because of just a general dislike I have of him as a candidate? I can't say. Maybe all of the above.

Is it possible that he has had a genuine change of heart? Sure. Do I think it is likely? Well...

Re: Romney... he's been pretty forthcoming in his explanation of where he stood in 1994 with respect to his position on abortion when he ran against Kennedy, and how he got to where he's at today (I will probably make this the subject of another post as I have been accumulating links to this topic). What's the basis for believing or not when someone - in particular a public person and candidate for office - has a change of heart on an issue of great importance?

To me, I think this is a rather serious topic, especially considering the implications. If Romney had an honest-to-God change of heart and mind on the issue of abortion in the 14 years between then and now, people are going to have to judge that for themselves.

I guess what I'm struggling with is this. The charge of a flip-flop is valid or it is not. In light of my own experience, I think it is entirely reasonable to believe that people can change their minds on even the most serious of public policy issues.

That many choose not to believe this is possible (evidenced perhaps by the degree to which they are inclined to level the flip-flop charge?) is as much an issue of their own preferential predispositions; it is name calling because they have an investment in someone else, not because they have discerned the truth or validity of the conversion.

To do that would require an open minded research into the words and deeds of the person in question then; a study of the subject's comments on the basis for his/her change; and a review of the person's actions in light of this change. All of which, to my view of human nature, requires that people put aside their preferences for a minute and judge with the possibility that they could be wrong about the candidate, and that it is better to change your mind and admit you were wrong than proceed without having made the investigation.

Everyone will acknowledge that this is a rare trait.

It is no secret then, that while I have been a big fan of Hunter and Tancredo, I have recently been investigating Romney, and will probably be posting my thoughts on his candidacy in the coming days. For some time I had judged him the inferior of those aforementioned candidates. I'll address this judgment, as I suggested, in a post in the coming days.

Thanks for the comments, Terry.


John Savage said...

I think in the case of a politician, Terry is right that his views should be well-formed. If McCain has changed, he should be prepared to act right away to demonstrate that he's changed. How about him introducing an immigration bill that will actually reduce the number of illegals without legalizing any?

Romney is an interesting case, though. As governor of Massachusetts, it's very possible that he had to take some positions that were at odds with his beliefs, just because Massachusetts wouldn't elect him otherwise. He's in a tough situation. He has to say he's changed his views, because if he was really pro-life a long time ago, he lied about it then; and if he is not pro-life now, then he's being hypocritical to run as a social conservative. So Romney seems to be bargaining that people will be more likely to forgive him for flip-flopping than for lying about his beliefs before. I tend to think if he is a sincere Mormon, he must have been pro-life the whole time. If that's the case, I wish he could be forthright about it, but I suppose he can't.

None of this is to say that Romney impresses me on other issues, but it just suggests that it's hard for our electorate to forgive the compromises that he might have had to make earlier in his career for the sake of political pragmatism. But these days, we pine for leaders who never tell even a little white lie, which is a tall order.

Great topic!

Terry Morris said...

Mike, I agree with you in some respects, yet I disagree in others. For instance, I don't think you can simply equate someone's 'predispositions' about a supposed heart change with 'an investment in someone else,' and claim it to be 'name-calling' on that basis. To me, in this particular instance, you may be over analyzing your own thought processes in an attempt to be fair to all. Once again, there's a huge amount of difference between a twenty-something individual changing his/her mind, and a fifty, sixty, seventy-something individual doing the same.

I don't know that much about Romney, except that he is a Mormon and he seems to believe that Mormons and Orthodox Christians, and even 'moderate' Muslims share a great many of the same principles and values. And I got that from a story a few weeks back where he got in a discussion with a Christian lady in public. And you're very familiar with my firm belief that for one to separate his worldview (determined by his religion, or the lack thereof), from the way he governs is a virtual impossibility.

I wanted to do a post on it over at Webster's at the time, but as it turned out I didn't have much time to do a proper investigation into the man himself. Now I kinda wish I had made the time.

But I'll be very interested to read what you've uncovered about Romney.


Michael Tams said...


I saw a video I'll link up where he explains his position to a talk-radio host in Iowa. The exchange gets heated in more than a couple of spots, but it is quite interesting. One of his comments is that he never had to consider the implications of his original stance (it is the law of the land though objectionable to me) until he was Governor. At that time - and he's adamant about checking the record, the proof is there - every single bill with life issues that came before him he came down on the side of life.


Let's use this example. I know someone who is supporting Guiliani, actively a part of the team. When he hears Romney explain that he had a plausible change of mind on the issue, is there any reason you can suggest that he'd take it seriously? He has a predisposition (he's supporting Rudy), and he has an investment in someone else (he's actively participating in the campaign); is he going to thoughtfully read Romney on the issue or is he going to out of hand dismiss it as "flip-flopping"? One course of action takes work and might require he admit that he was wrong about his choice (along with the practical consequences of that - leaving Rudy's campaign, letting people down that he made a commitment to, etc.); the other course of action is easy, feels good, and reinforces his "right" decision.

Is age the deciding factor for the validity of a change of opinion? Romney was 46 in 1994; at 46, should people have it "figured out" and there's little room for the Spirit to work changes in people?

As far as sharing "principles and values" with people of other faiths, am I understanding your comment correctly: you regard this with skepticism?


Terry Morris said...

"As far as sharing "principles and values" with people of other faiths, am I understanding your comment correctly: you regard this with skepticism?"

I regard with skepticism the idea that people can separate their religious faith from their political faith. And I would further assert that in direct proportion to their grounding in the former, is it more difficult to make that separation.

But like I said, I consider 'the lack thereof' as an expression of religious faith in itself. And here again, this generally determines one's politics.

No; I don't view the sharing of principles and values with skepticism, at least not in the sense that you seem to be taking me, which seems to be that of wasted effort. You know me better'n that.

But I will say this, we're probably lucky in a sense that most people don't have a strong faith these days. It provides a means for the sharing of principles and values that would otherwise not be there. And to give you an example of what I mean here, how likely do you think it that the founding generation, as an example, would have been 'open-minded' to Darwinianism?

I don't think there's a cut-off date, or age, it's just an observation on what I consider to be the rule, rather than the exception to it. And just as I believe that laws should not be made based on the exception, nor do I believe that we should allow the exception to govern the way that we approach a subject like this one.

You might get back with me 14 or 15 years hence, and I'll have a better idea then on whether McCain's recent conversion was a legitimate one. Until then I'm going to regard it with skepticism, yes, given everything else I know of the man.


Michael Tams said...

Yeah, I was surprised at how it sounded, and figured I must've been reading you wrong. I'm glad for that.

While I want to trust that the Spirit has been at work in the mind of John McCain, I'm a skeptic there as well. Romney's change of heart? I don't know. I sort of get it when I hear him speak or read his comments on what changed for him. And other issues aside? I'm 34 years old and I still feel the Spirit working in me every day. I'm changing for the better as I get older and I can imagine that I'm not alone in this regard.

I'll try and get that Romney post up in the coming week.


Maggie said...

The reason most people accuse politicians of flip-flopping isn't that they shouldn't change their minds, but rather that their "new" opinion is simply a result of pandering, a cynical change. No one would think that an ordinary citizen who changed his mind from pro-life to pro-choice and back again was doing it to get something out of it. A suspiciously large number of these "changes of heart" occur in the souls of politicians only when they are running for higher office, and that's what makes people squirm.

Vanishing American said...

I think it's certainly possible for someone to change their mind, even people who are middle-aged or older. In my case I did not fully return to the conservative views I was raised with until I was well into middle age (and after I was born again). However I have to agree with Maggie that politicians are another story, given that they often shift their positions for reasons of political expediency.
I would think that if I had been in politics or public life and had had a sudden change of heart, or had become pro-life instead of pro-choice I would feel compelled to go public with it as it happened and explain how and why I had changed my thinking.
As far as McCain's changing his mind on immigration, did anyone read the news story about his exchange with a N.H. woman who challenged him on immigration? In his reply to her, he sounded very much like the old Open Borders John McCain to me.

Michael Tams said...


Thanks for the comment. But how do you know it's pandering and not a sincere change? I don't mean to pick, but can you think of an example where someone changed their mind from the wrong position to the right position for convenience/expediency?

For me, McCain comes to mind, yet in his case I think it is possible to make an accurate judgment on the sincerity of his "conversion" - we can judge him by his current words and actions, which remain inconsistent.

Beyond that, I'm at a loss for a certain example.


Michael Tams said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree that McCain is probably - just based on his ongoing words and actions - not a sincere convert. He's been less than consistent since his very recent recent change of heart.

And maybe that's a part of it: establishing a track record, over time, of consistency in word and action with your conversion.

This may be too personal - if so, forgive the question and I understand not answering - but have you ever discused being saved on your blog? I'm fascinated by the different ways people find God, or, maybe more appropriately, how He finds them.


Dee said...

I do like your sharing your personal experience regarding your change of heart on abortion.

I´m a little skeptical about McCain´s change of heart. The timing is a little too convenient.

As Camarota said, "He (McCain) recognizes his position on the issue is killing him."

Anyone can change their minds and whichever side a person takes, their decision should be based on their beliefs, not what will get them the most votes.

You, MT, are honest in your posts and I believe you when you say you changed your mind on the abortion issue. While I agree with your current view of abortion, we disagree on the Immigration issues. As I say to most on your side, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Terry Morris said...

I've been a little remiss in my duties here at the AFB of late. And it is due to this fact that I missed several of the comments as they were added to this post. I did note the additional comments a few days ago and meant then to address them. But I got busy with other priorities.

However, I would respectfully ask Dee, if she's still lurking, in what way does she disagree with the AFB position on immigration; why do you disapprove of what we say on immigration? Would you be more specific?

As far as MT's changing his mind on abortion, he can speak for himself, and he has in the post, but I think we should not neglect that it wasn't his personal conviction on abortion that was changed, just his view on whether he or anyone else had the right to impose that conviction on others.

We've talked about before here whether or not we can or should enforce our view of morality on others; that to claim we're not or shouldn't, is actually, and really to claim a right to do so. In the end that is exactly what happens either way. The question then is, which is the right way?


Maggie said...


Hmmm. Now, I can think of many politicians who became pro-choice for the sake of expediency, even after years of being pro-life. Dennis "the Menace to municipal
solvency" from Cleveland and Teddy Kennedy come to mind. These individuals obviously morphed into pander bears. On the pro-life side, the one that pops up most clearly is Bush 41, who magically switched sides after he was added to Reagan's ticket, in spite of allll that money the family had given to Planned Parenthood over the years.

Romney also makes me rather queasy. Running in liberal Massachusetts, run as a pro-abortion candidate. Running for president, run as a pro-life candidate. If the Republican base was stocked with pro-abortion voters instead of pro-lifers, does anyone seriously think that Romney would have had a "change of heart"? Or would he have trumpeted his pro-choice record as a major positive?

Michael Tams said...


I'm not well versed on the positions of GHWB, so I won't question you on that one.

To be fair, I wouldn't say Romney ran as a pro-abortion candidate, either in 1994 or when he ran for and was elected governor. His statements seem to make a distinction between what he believed and what his duty was as an elected official in a secular government. Do I necessarily agree with that? I can't answer that. Had he hammered away in his campaign that he was taking a principled stand (had he run for governor as an abolitionist), I wonder if he would have been elected; I would guess not. There's a certain pragmatism at work that makes ideologues uncomfortable; I get that.

Your challenge is a relatively easy one to address. His record as governor included vetoing four bills that came before him that would have expanded abortion rights. His record - consistent with when he says he changed - is pretty clearly pro-life.

Thanks for the comments, Maggie.


Michael Tams said...


Gosh, I'm glad you brought both of those things up - I must've been asleep at the switch! Indeed, while I might have utilized that age-old "progressive" argument (used by 15 year-olds across the country on virtually any topic: "what gives you the right to say...?"), I would never have suggested that aborting a baby was right or moral.

Secondly, what's objectionable about my - our - position on immigration anyway?


P.S. I missed you Terry.

Terry Morris said...

"Secondly, what's objectionable about my - our - position on immigration anyway?"

I don't know. But I'd sure like for Dee to elaborate on what is objectionable to her about the position. And that's the reason I regret having been less than attentive to the posts here at the AFB recently. But anyway...