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Flip-Flopping: Always a Political Faux Pas

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Flip-Flopping: Always a Political Faux Pas

Flip-Flopping: Always a Political Faux Pas

Flip-Flopping: Always a Political Faux Pas

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/92008333/92008310" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

It's the deadliest sin in the political lexicon and managing a flip-flop takes some doing. This year's presidential race brings more much-debated reversals. Will any of the candidates have the courage to talk straight to the voters?

DANIEL SCHORR: Senator Barack Obama had indicated that he would accept public financing of his campaign. Then he changed his mind and said, no, he wouldn't.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Here we go again with the flip-flop. Not a pair of sandals, but the deadliest sin in the political lexicon. Managing a flip-flop takes some doing. Governor Ronald Reagan raised taxes, which he had promised never to do. And afterward he said, that sound you hear is the concrete cracking around my feet. No one has been quite that good at it. One of the most disastrous flip-flops during the Bush-Kerry campaign was the senator explaining his position on funding for the Iraq war. I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made merry with that.

In this campaign, Senator McCain has had more than his share of flip-flops. He has embraced tax cuts which he opposed in the Senate in 2003. He denounced a Supreme Court decision granting habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees as one of the worst decisions in the history of this country having earlier denounced harsh treatment of the detainees. Some flip-flops will live in history. When President Nixon in 1971 imposed wage and price controls which he had long opposed, he told speech writer William Sapphire, circumstances change. Sapphire later wrote, just as one man's consistency is another man's rigidity, one man's flip-flopping is another man's opportunity to grow.

There's a lesson there for today's crop of flip-floppers. They tend to announce changes in viewpoint or a policy with embarrassment requiring lengthy explanations, even apologies. The voting public might be less scornful of a politician who said, this has been my position, and I have reconsidered it because conditions have changed. On mature reflection, I have decided to adopt a new policy. I offer this advice on a nonpartisan basis to any politician with the courage to talk straight to the voters. This is Daniel Schorr.

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