Criticizing presidential candidates for changing opinions by calling them dishonest limits open conversations about policy changes

1 year ago
Ian Seamans
Commentary

Donald Trump is a flip-flopper. Hillary Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan are also all flip-floppers. Flip-flopping is a derogatory term in politics. It insinuates politicians are dishonest for changing their opinions, either before the election or after. We shouldn’t denigrate policy shifts as a whole as they often benefit the people. We should support politicians who adapt their policy, and the best way to do that is to review the alterations before lambasting them. Criticizing politicians for flip-flopping discourages open discussion and prevents them from explaining themselves.

This year’s presidential candidates have been accused of being blatant flip-floppers on many positions. Trump has changed his stance on illegal immigration policy multiple times and Clinton has changed her position on both NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Clinton and Trump changed their minds in order to get more voters, but that political expediency also makes sure their policies better reflect the views of the general public.


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Our greatest presidents have flip-flopped on some of the issues for which we know them best. Lincoln declared while running for president that he would not infringe on southern slavery. Wilson said he would not enter World War I and Reagan was originally a Democrat.

Presidents will always change their opinion to either best benefit the country, like in the case of George H.W. Bush’s “no new taxes,” or in response to public opinion, like in the case of Hillary Clinton’s change of heart on gay marriage. We shouldn’t shame politicians for changing their positions, but instead ask why they’re changing their positions.

A politician changing his or her mind should not be called dishonest. Instead we should evaluate their honesty and their opinion change individually. If an individual running for office changes his or her stance on an issue in order to attract more voters, they therefore better represent public opinion.

Once he or she is elected, however, it becomes a political tightrope. Presidents, unlike candidates, are charged with representing the whole electorate, not just their backers.

In general, presidents shouldn’t betray the voters that elected them. Promises made while on the campaign trail should be kept unless either unforeseen circumstances arise or the public’s will changes. Often the latter two are seen as flip-flopping on issues, but a change in policy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I believe a change of opinion is usually positive, but if a politician changes their position on a core issue it might signal dishonesty. Core issues are those that affect many peripheral issues. An example of this is the economy. If a politician believes in a free market, he or she will be less likely to vote in favor of strict environmental regulation. The public is not and will never be open to a change in core values by a president.

If a candidate changes fundamental beliefs then we start seriously doubting that they will govern on the policies they supported while running.

Instead of calling candidates flip-floppers, we should have a more in-depth conversation about what issues they changed their mind on, why they changed their opinion and whether that issue was fundamental to their ideology. It’s easy to have shallow political conversations, but instead we should inspect our politicians’ decisions before decrying them as dishonest. We have applied this type of approach to historical figures like Lincoln, but now we need to apply those standards to the politicians facing us today.