NEW YORK—Here we go all over again. Read my lips and bring 'em on. It's the economy, stupid. Gotcha!
Which is to say, the stupid season is upon us. Same story, same characters, same plot twists. And yes, the same insanity. Plus ca change and all that.
To the familiar litany of cliches above, one hastens to add, "I was for it before I was against it," the sine qua non of that quintessential political bugaboo—flip-floppery.
A politician may be able to survive cavorting with prostitutes, sexting with coeds and commingling with interns, but heaven forbid he should change his mind—the transgression that trumps all compassion.
After all, thinking can lead to that most dangerous territory for a politician—doubt—and, inevitably, the implication that dare not be expressed: "I could be wrong."
Those most averse to engaging in the sort of thought that could lead to self-doubt are, alas, those who constitute the political party base. These sometimes-wrong-never-in-doubt constituents are relentless in demanding ideological purity from their candidates and routinely banish those who don't measure up. Thinking men and women need not apply.
These same folks also happen to constitute a minority of Americans, yet they control the debate. The rest of us are left to pick among the ideologically approved scraps.
The flip-flop is nothing new, of course. The archives of The New York Times reveal an early first political reference in 1890 when John W. Goff, candidate for New York district attorney, accused his opponent of a "great flip-flop."
The term seems to have increased in popularity with each decade. Now, hardly anyone escapes the charge of flip-flopping, which in today's man-up, grizzly-mamma freakosystem is tantamount to being weak and lacking in conviction. Witness the unfortunate John Kerry, who in 2004 was mercilessly maligned as a flip-flopper after he allegedly shifted his support for Iraq War funding. It was unhelpful that Kerry himself said that he voted for the funding before he voted against it.
Subsequent explanations of what he meant never gained traction because slogan beats reality every time. And besides, those ads showing Kerry flipping from one side to another while windsurfing were too much fun.
This go-round, it's Mitt Romney (once again) who has been tattooed with the flip-flop label. He has indeed changed his mind on abortion and gay marriage, both of which he previously supported. As governor of Massachusetts, he orchestrated a near-universal health care model that included mandatory insurance, a position he opposes as part of President Obama's federal plan.
Now he's in the "hot seat" on global warming, a Washington Post headline informs us. Romney has said that he believes global warming is real and that humans are contributing to it. Whoa! Sorry, bub, but if you're a Republican presidential contender, this is not an ideologically approved position. None other than Rush Limbaugh says Romney is history—"Bye-bye, nomination."
One can infer that Romney is not Limbaugh's candidate of choice, but is it really so remarkable that Romney would accept scientific evidence that the earth's climate is changing and that humans, because of their historically unprecedented carbon emissions, might contribute to that effect?
Never mind that Romney couched his comments with enough disclaimers to leave a T. rex wiggle room, even saying that he didn't know the degree of human contribution, the crux of the debate. The mere mention of a human role (versus, presumably, a divine plan) was enough to bestir the guardians of scientific inquiry at Conservatives4Palin, who averred that Romney is "simpatico" with Obama and that he "totally bought into the man-made global warming hoax."
Ah, yes, Romney, the tree-hugging, flip-flopping Obamaphile. Isn't he a Muslim, too?
On the issue of global warming, it is worth mentioning that the conservatives' anti-global warming golden boy, Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish author, professor and environmental writer, has adjusted his thinking on the matter. Although he has always maintained that cost-benefit analysis has to be part of any calculus in combating climate change, he also has said that global warming is "man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world." In a saner world, we would not distrust those who change their mind but rather those who never do.
Kathleen Parker's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. (c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group.