Flip Flops Not Just for the Summer Months


John Stuart Mill objects to censorship and believes that freedom of speech is essential to a society that wants to progress to the ultimate truth.  While watching the Republican debates, I can’t help but wonder if Mill would condone the flip-flopping politics of the candidates, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  They have a right to voice their political beliefs, but is it okay to advocate contradictory opinions throughout the years?  Yes, I believe people can change their opinions, which is encouraged by collaborating with other politicians and by experience, but I can’t help but wonder if the candidates are voicing their opinions just to get a vote.

Newt Gingrich has recently escalated in the polls, and many of his flip-flopping ideas have become more apparent.  Gingrich, in the past, believed that American citizens could be required by mandate to buy health insurance.  However, now he is completely opposed to the idea.  In 2008, he filmed a commercial with Nancy Pelosi advocating action on climate change but now he regrets ever having done it (Boston Globe article).

Mitt Romney’s many flip flops have occurred not after winning elections to win further elections to create change, but rather after he loses.  Not only is the timing odd, but the opinions he flip-flops on are extremely important.  He once was pro-choice, but now pro-life.  He did not support “Obamacare”, but it was modeled on “Romneycare” (Chicago Tribune article).  He constantly has to defend himself in debate, but I think a candidate should spend more time voicing their own opinions, not defending their past.

Would Mill support the change in the candidates?  Would he think that even though they are sharing their newfound beliefs with the public that they have a right to share so many different opinions?  Does this flip-flopping show signs that the candidates do not truly believe what they share with the public?  Have they thought deeply about their beliefs if they are subject to change so easily?  Do we want a president that is unsure of the politics they want to practice?

I think Mill would appreciate the candidates trying to get out a vast array of ideas.  The candidates do encourage the public to reflect and decided for themselves what they think is right, and Mill would think that our society would benefiting from the process.  However, I think Mill would rather have the candidates ponder their decisions before speaking out to the entire country advocating for certain things, and then changing them in a future election.  Do you think Mill would support the candidates even though they flip-flop?

“However unwillingly a person who has s strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought  to be moved by the consideration that however true it maybe, if it is not fully , frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as  dead dogma, not a living truth” (Mill, On Liberty).

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3 Comments on “Flip Flops Not Just for the Summer Months”

  1. scottmha Says:

    I believe Mill would support the candidates regardless of their flip-flopping because he may be pleased that the candidates know their view points are not the only truth. By this I mean, Mitt Romney know’s that there are other options to pro-life, and that pro-life is not the only right option, just the favored one by Romney (at this point in time).

    I believe these politicians keep flip-flopping not because they don’t know which side they believe in but in an effort to get more votes. Theres where the problem begins for me. If you are solely taking a stance to get more votes in the upcoming election,how are you supposed to be passionate about it? Without passion, I don’t see how these politicians can be successful.

  2. thelenj1 Says:

    I think that Mills would support the candidate flip-flopping. Mills argues for an unlimited freedom of expression, he would say the candidates have the right to express their opinion and change their minds if they find something to be more true. The whole purpose of this freedom of expression is to find truths and gain knowledge. So some could argue that by the debates and constant attacks each candidate has against them are causing the candidates to reassess their views and grow in knowledge. Personally though, I believe we need a president that has some consistency. A president that is constantly changing his mind would not be a fit leader for our country. If a person’s basic ideas did not stay somewhat the same then there would be no point in even having elections because it would not matter who you voted for because the person could completely change and the reasons you voted for them originally may not still exist.

  3. tyhughes2014 Says:

    I believe it is quite difficult to relate Mill’s writing to the expression of contradictory statements and beliefs by politicians. Mill was primarily focused on ensuring individual’s freedom of expression and freedom of speech were not infringed upon and in the case you present, these rights are certainly not being infringed. The only thing that is occurring is that these politicians are choosing their words very carefully (or maybe not so carefully) to ensure they don’t lose any votes. It isn’t a matter of their speech being hindered by others. It’s a case of these individuals hindering their own speech for strategic, political reasons.

    The quote you present by Mill is saying that even if an individual is quite confident in his opinion, he should not stop others from discussing the possibility that his opinion may be wrong. No speech should be inhibited whatsoever, regardless of how strong or confident the opposition is. While you may think that this relates to politicians flip-flopping their beliefs, I would argue that it does not because the politicians are not flip-flopping in order to try and prove themselves wrong. They are doing it for other, more personal reasons.

    If, on the other hand, one strong political party tried to suppress a smaller party for expressing their contradictory beliefs, Mill would certainly not approve. In the situation presented though we have two strong political parties and candidates jumping between the beliefs in both in attempt to gain votes.

    While I like the argument for and against politicians changing their beliefs, I just do not think the scenario can be tied to Mill and his writing.

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