trying to define "flip-flop"
From Gloria Borger in USN&WR, something I've written about in the past-- here and here...
"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" the economist John Maynard Keynes once asked famously. But in American politics today, changing your mind is a very bad thing to do. It is taken as evidence of weakness. Or confusion. Or worse yet, a sign of pandering for votes (as if that would be a political stunner).
Yet in this campaign, both candidates have flipped. First John McCain, who reversed an earlier position by calling for an end to the federal ban on offshore drilling as "something we have to do," given the nation's dependence on foreign energy. Then, after criticizing McCain, Barack Obama followed him, allowing that he might consider some offshore drilling, but only as part of a larger, comprehensive energy bill.
Sure, we get it: They're running for president, and $4-a-gallon gasoline refocuses the mind, not to mention the talking points. But what, exactly, is wrong with that? If high gas prices are causing Americans to change their thinking and, in fact, their lifestyles—buying smaller cars, moving closer to their workplaces—why should politicians remain stagnant? After all, as the man said, the facts have changed.
Still, suspicions remain, and with good reason. We've been burned before on this flip-flop business. Consider Mitt Romney—firmly pro-abortion rights (while running for office in Democratic Massachusetts) until he became firmly antiabortion (before running for the Republican presidential nomination). All of which leads voters to the obvious question: How do we decide when a presidential candidate's flips are because of conviction or craven calculation?
Character assessment. Truth is, there's really no clear answer, except this: Voters view these policy decisions through the prism of their overall assessments of a candidate's character. If we think we know who you are—and consider you to be a truth-teller, for instance—we're likely to draw a direct line between our sense of you and your policy choice.
So when McCain says he changed his mind about offshore drilling because times have changed, some voters will say, "OK, he's a straight talker," and give him a pass....But Obama has a harder task when he flips. He's new, and voters are still scratching their heads about him....