Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Most Americans give politicians low marks for sincerity, and see every decision they reach cold, poll-driven calculation. Often enough, it is. Politicians, after all, have asked pollsters where they should spend their summer vacations. Yet, when pundits and interest groups urge politicians to change their minds, and they do, they're assailed for flip-flopping. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have faced that charge several times, on several issues, including the president's new support for gay marriage and Mitt Romney's current opposition to abortion. Journalists always have to be skeptical. But I wonder if it's too easy to automatically see political calculation as the only force that changes a politician's mind or heart.

It's hard to think of more personal issues than love, marriage and abortion. Millions of Americans have probably changed their feelings about those issues, too, because real experience can become more compelling than opinions. People who never thought they could accept same-sex marriage can get to know a gay couple and like them. Couples who were comfortable with legal abortion can see a human embryo on a sonogram and find their comfort shaken. Politicians are often lauded in speeches for holding fast to their convictions, but history often honors those who change their minds.

Abraham Lincoln didn't run for president as an abolitionist, famously saying if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it. But he saw thousands die under his command, and came to feel that so much blood shouldn't be shed just to reset the world the way it was. So, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which even alarmed a lot of northerners, and said in his second inaugural address that every drop of blood drawn with the lash of slavery shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.

Robert Caro, no idolater of Lyndon Johnson, shows in his most recent volume how the U.S. civil rights movement personally touched a man who had grown up in poverty and witnessed the lash of bigotry in a rural Texas that had segregated schools, hospitals, churches and theaters. Yet, his best friends in the U.S. senate were old segregationist Southern Democrats, like Richard Russell of Georgia. But as president, Lyndon Johnson used legislative tricks he learned from them to pass voting rights bills that changed the complexion of American democracy, even as he knew it would cost his party Southern votes for a generation. Others may have other examples of politicians who changed course, and not all would be considered so heroic. But sometimes, politicians feel called to look inside themselves on an issue - as a citizen, friend or parent - and the change they feel can change others.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small