No one likes a flip-flopper unless he or she flips and flops to the right view. Of course, there’s a lot of suspicion when a politician changes his views. Many people see it as a way to garner votes. Flip-flopping is done by some out of political expediency.
But some people change their views out of solid convictions. Ronald Reagan was not always a rock-ribbed conservative. Reagan began his political career as a liberal Democrat. He admired the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. The same is true of the late Andrew Breitbart (1969–2012). “He changed his political views after experiencing an ‘epiphany’ during the Clarence Thomas hearings, and later described himself as ‘a Reagan conservative’ with libertarian sympathies.”
Bernard N. Nathanson (1926–2011) was an American medical doctor from New York who helped to found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, but later became a pro-life activist. He is often quoted as saying abortion is “the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States.” in his 1996 autobiography Hand of God he wrote, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”
The reason we believe these flippers is that they demonstrated in their subsequent works that they had converted from some form of liberalism to some form of conservatism and beyond. We know their change in worldview was sincere and was not done for political exploitation.
As things seem to be going in the GOP primary, Mitt Romney is on track to sew up the nomination. Will his previous Massachusetts views on a number of policies damage his prospects among the Republican faithful? Consider this statement by Bill Frezza writing for Forbes:
Mitt Romney may be a flexible pragmatist whose positions are not anchored in any fixed principles, driving diehard conservatives bonkers. But one of the most dishonest criticisms of his candidacy, from both the right and the left, is that he has flip flopped on health care.
It is an undisputed fact that Romney endorsed an individual mandate to purchase health insurance when he was governor of Massachusetts, while he vocally opposes the individual mandate that forms the linchpin of Obamacare.
Mitt Romney has argued that what’s constitutionally right for a state to legislate may not be proper for the federal government to legislate. That’s Romney’s argument, and he’s sticking to it. In fact, it’s the same position that Ron Paul takes. Will Romney support ObamaCare if elected? No way.
But back to the flip-flop issue. There is nothing wrong when a person changes his position. In fact, we should encourage people to change if the change is in the right direction. Consider Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911). At one point in his life, Judge Darrell White (Ret.) writes, “Harlan vigorously defended the property rights of slave owners, believing that government should not interfere.” In time, however, “Harlan reversed his position on the slavery issue and spoke out boldly in opposition to the execrable [detestable] institution.” (“Historical Significance of a Kentucky Colonel named Harlan,” Around the Bar (February 2007), 20.)) In an 1871 speech, Justice Harlan admitted the following:
I have lived long enough to feel and declare that . . . the most perfect despotism that ever existed in this earth was the institution of African slavery. . . . With slavery it was death or tribute. . . . It knew no compromise, it tolerated no middle course. I rejoice that it was gone. . . . Let it be said that I am right rather than consistent.
We know that Justice Harlan’s flip-flop on the slavery issue was sincere when he was the lone voice of dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a notorious 7-1 decision that upheld the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” He wrote:
“In the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. . . . The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.”
As the Bible says, “You shall know them by their fruits.”