While driving in to work, I heard a local conservative radio personality say (essentially) this, "I'd rather vote for a guy who sticks to his guns no matter what, than a guy like Kerry who doesn't even know what his opinion is from one minute to the next." Your view as to whether Kerry is a "flip-flopper" or not, and the counter-argument about Bush's own "re-statements of his opinion" notwithstanding, this statement really grates at me. What it is saying when you break it down is this, "Consistency trumps Reason". Before you 'righties' have a fit, let me explain (if you are already starting to shake and feel that vein in your head ready to blow, go ahead and call me a "socialist" or something to relieve the pressure, but then please come back and keep reading).
So what are conservatives actually comparing with that statement? First, keep in mind that the statement is not passing judgment on Kerry or Bush, although it does attempt to describe them from the speakers' perspective. It is saying that given two options, they'd pick the first guy. Digging into the actual statement, I think we understand the latter half, the person who changes their mind. You can muse on the merits of changes in direction on your own time, that isn't important here. That part of the statement is saying that changes in direction, be it once or ten times, is bad (regardless of if it's the 'right' thing to do or not). That's easy to understand.
It's the first part of that message that is most disturbing to me. You see, if the guy who "sticks to his guns" was truly right all of the time, then that statement would have no meaning. Who wouldn't prefer someone who is not only 'right', but who knows it and sticks with it. The above comparison only works if the guy who "sticks with his guns" is WRONG. What the comparison really says, "I would rather have someone who is consistent, even when they are wrong, than someone who changes their mind too frequently, irrespective of whether or not he comes down on the right side of things at the end".
This statement speaks volumes about many of the Bush supporters I see today, and is what also drives the "anybody but Bush" fervor as well. It's the apparent decision by the Bush administration that it is better to be strong and resolute, and to appear driven before the eyes of the people, than to run the risk of showing what may be perceived as poor leadership by re-directing. People, even Presidents, are fallible and I am not asking for Bush to come before the people on his knees, simpering and begging for forgiveness for his transgressions. However, the administration is so concerned by this duality, that not only will they not admit mistakes, but they have time and again refused to make necessary and crucial changes for fear of being seen as irresolute. For those of you who even now are becoming dizzy by furiously nodding your head with this approach, I ask you this simple question. Is it better to be right, or is it better to be perceived as right?
This isn't to say that Bush hasn't admitted any of his mistakes. He did admit that they were mistaken about what the situation would be in Iraq immediately after the war. But that's the only time I can recall him doing so, and he has avoided repeating it like it was the black death. In a press briefing earlier in the year he was asked about his mistakes and he stuttered and stammered until all he could come up with was, "I'm sure I'll think of something," (which if you watch FoxNews, you will see a clip of it during a frequent pro-Kerry commercial). During the debates, he dodged the question, rambling on about some unnamed appointments.
There was a "New Voter Project" where people ages 18-30 asked the three main candidates 12 questions, which the candidates responded to in written form. One question asked when it was appropriate for a leader to change their opinion. When should "thoughtful reconsideration not be derided as flip-flopping"? The question wanted each of the three men to include in their answer a time when they had an "honest change of opinion on a topic of national importance". Even though Nader responded about a time he ate a hot dog, and Kerry's response ducked giving an example, can you guess what Bush's response was? If you can't guess, try this question. Who was the only candidate to not answer all of the questions, and what was the only question he did not answer? If you guessed Bush, and the question about "thoughtful reconsideration", then you have the answer to both questions. Even away from the bright lights of a crowded debate, and with all of the time and support staff available to him, and despite the fact that he gave the most lengthy answers to quite a few of the other questions, Bush simply couldn't answer the question. He couldn't even fake a response.
I have railed against Bush time and again, but that's not why I'm writing this. I am writing this time to challenge those who support Bush. I have heard over and over and again this election season about Kerry's flip-flops, and how Bush conveys a consistent and unerringly precise direction. I've heard countless Bush supporters showing the same inflexibility and lack of thoughtful reconsideration with statements like "Bush is my guy, no matter what," and "consistency of message is what's important in the face of terror." I challenge you today to rethink those statements. The old saying of "those who do not learn from their mistakes, are destined to repeat them" is true, but not entirely applicable here. The new saying is, "those who do learn from their mistakes, but who are too stubborn to admit and learn from them, are doomed to make our entire country repeat them".
If your candidate can't be honest with you about his mistakes, and more importantly resists the call to make it right, how confident can you be that if the next decision he makes, one that may affect you very personally, turns out to be wrong, that it will be corrected? Can you reasonably expect a President who won't even answer a question about "thoughtful consideration" to exercise it?
Let's not make the rally cry of our next President "he may be wrong, but at least he's consistent." If you go to the polls in a few weeks to vote for Bush with that thought in your head, I hope and pray you can take a lesson from this discussion, and rethink some of your own mistakes before you pull that lever.
P.S. To read the Q&A sponsored by the New Voters Project, follow this link (look at question #11 for Bush's response to the question...or lack of response, rather).
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