As a teacher, I know full well that I don’t know everything important, and the logical implications of that are that I should listen to people who find my ideas inadequate and, if they can provide alternatives that are more adequate, even if I had not thought such things before, that an honest person should change views. As I’ve noted before, the most disturbing thing about the University System of Georgia’s study on accusations of classroom bias is that so many students surveyed expected never to change their minds about anything while in college. Constancy is a virtue, to be sure, and nobody trusts people whose verbalized convictions shift based on every shift of audience. But to be entirely immune to counsel is no virtue, not to mention the inability to vote for one version of a bill and against the next.
When Rick Warren, at the Saddleback presidential candidates’ forum, asked Obama and McCain if they’d changed their minds about anything in the last ten years, he had to preface the question by letting the candidates off the hook with regards to the now-famous charge of “flip-flopping,” a phrase that became quite tired by the end of 2004. In the current climate, both major parties use the hyper-documented late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as minefields, noting every change in policy position and perpetuating the bad assumption that a real “leader” (I should write a post about that word) would never decide any time after a campaign starts that some other course of action might be better. With cameras rolling and 24-hour news networks looking for material to fill the hours (there are only so many frames in a bowling game), there is little difference if any between pandering and deliberate change of mind–if there is difference, there is flip-flop.