The Necessity Of Duplicity

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

“You’re a flip-flopper!” is considered one of the most damaging accusations to confront a challenger with in the political arena. “You were for it before you were against it!” Score another point for a candidate’s opposition.

But can we really blame politicians when they seemingly change their stands on issues? Or, should we blame ourselves for dropping out of the early stages of the electoral process letting the far right and far left dictate the debate, and thus the outcomes of primaries and caucuses?

Are candidates disingenuous flip-floppers or is he or she a political realist while the accuser is simply politically naïve? Do we blame ourselves for lacking the sense of harsh political reality that demands we accept the necessity of duplicity?

When Seventh District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson was the ranking minority member of the powerful House Agriculture Committee back in 2006, he brought House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi out to Benson to see Fibrominn and the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company. Though both are Democrats, he pointed out that she could never win an election in his sprawling rural district and he could never win an election in her district centered around San Francisco. She was far too liberal for his constituents and he far too conservative for hers.

Yet a candidate running for president has to satisfy both wings of his or her party.

Candidates have one goal – to get elected. If that means hedging a position during primary season, seeming to backtrack or even reverse a stand, it is all a matter of shaping yourself to the early electorate and giving yourself a chance to get on the November ballot. All candidates do it.

Flip-flopping candidates

During an early Democratic debate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked by CNN moderator Anderson Cooper “Will you say anything to get elected?” It is a question that could have been asked of all presidential candidates.

Clinton was for the Keystone XL Pipeline before she was against it. She was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement before she was against it. She was against the rights of gays to marry before she was for it.
Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Sanders was against holding the manufacturers of guns liable for the deaths and injuries their products cause before he was for it.
All the leading Republican candidates have done their own flip-flops.

Billionaire Donald Trump was for a woman’s right to choose on abortion before he was against it. He was for accepting Syrian refugees before he was against it. He was for funding Planned Parenthood before he was against it.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was a member of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan committee of U.S. senators working on an immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship for illegal aliens already in the country. He now stands against a path to citizenship.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz once supported legislation that had a path to citizenship, but now adamantly opposes it.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would have invaded Iraq, then he didn’t know for sure what he would have done, and now he says he wouldn’t have authorized it “knowing what is known now.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was for a path to citizenship before he was against it. He was pro-choice before he joined the Right to Life movement. He was for accepting Syrian refugees before he was against it.

Political reality

Out of a hundred issues that a candidate sees himself or herself working on while leading the nation, a handful are going to be so polarizing that to ignore your electoral base means political oblivion. They define candidates and elections.

Stands on guns, gays, healthcare, Syrian refugees coming to America, committing U.S. ground troops to wars in the Middle East, raising taxes and a path to citizenship for people crossing the border from Mexico are all divisive and polarizing issues.

Moderates don’t win primary elections.

Primary voters don’t look for the pragmatic leader who can shepherd legislation through a divided Congress. They don’t vote for the candidate with the greatest depth of experience in governing or foreign affairs. Today, they seem to favor the rabble rouser, the anti-establishment candidate, the one with the biggest flame thrower promising to burn down Washington, D.C., and rebuild it to reflect his or her angry base.

That means the candidates who once held moderate positions have had to jettison them. The politician who worked on crafting compromises has to disavow that “lapse of judgment” in favor of rigid, dictatorial claims of how he or she will bludgeon the opposition into submission, whether in Washington or overseas.

We respect consistency and integrity on issues. But candidates shape themselves to their constituencies as a matter of political electability and survival. It leads to many awkward interviews as they try to justify new stands against old words and actions.

To work for what they truly believe in they first must get elected. That means pandering to those who vote in primaries and explaining away “flip-flops” with tales of conversion, personal growth, new insight, changing times, and new information that wasn’t available before.

A cynic would say ambition trumps ideology, but the realist knows there is no room for consistent ideology, not if you want to get elected and have the chance to shape the country’s policies.

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