A Quick Response to “In Defense of Flip-Flopping”

Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane, a mechanical engineer and a journalist, take up the issue of political flip-flopping in contemporary US politics today in Salon. For this post to make any sense, go read it real quick–it’s not long.

I think this article is founded on a vast confusion of terms. First, the writers compare political systems to an array of natural ones, and intimate that the two dominant parties in the US are no different: they’re just responding to the changing landscape before them.

But you could say the same thing about a virus–it’s a natural system that responds to the environment it finds itself in. The question is, are our parties more like the human body–or more like a virus infecting us?

And this gets us down to the main error in this article as I see it–there’s no discussion of ethics. The main point that people make time and time again is not that flip-flopping is unnatural, or illogical–it’s that it’s *wrong*. And our two writers simply dodge this question. But for most of us, that’s the crucial issue. Arsenic, fire, and lions are all natural. But they may not be good for us. Someone who argued that a madman rampaging around Manhattan, releasing lions, starting fires, and dumping arsenic into our water wasn’t worth worrying about because, “hey, they’re all natural!” would rightly be dimissed as a fool.

Next, the writers seem to confuse two very different things: they talk about Romney and Obama changing their policies so as to “move their ideas forward”. But obviously, that’s not what’s going on. They’re changing their policies to stay in power, not for some grand ideological scheme. They’re politicians, not mystical philosophers.

Finally, their point is invalidated by facts on the ground–outside of the US, the vast majority of democracies around the world have far more than 2 dominant parties. If the two-party system is some natural outcome of the laws of nature, how do we explain all the countries that don’t have two parties?

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