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Changing times, Changing minds


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 31, 2000
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So, Al Gore walks into Burger King with an entourage of media and orders the number one combo meal. Cameras flicker and reporters write down, "Gore shows liking for whoppers and fries." Gore reconsiders and decides to nix the fries and stick with just the whopper and a large Coke.

Cameras flicker and reporters, aghast, scribble, "Gore shows inconsistency in fast-food preferences."

The next morning, the "Today Show" interviews a political strategist - who incidentally works for Bill Bradley - who analyzes the situation very carefully.

"I'm convinced that this reflects his indecisiveness. If he can't stick with fries, how do we know he'll stick to his promise to clean up the environment? Or to promote diversity? Americans should be very wary of a politician who changes his mind all the time."

Of late, this seems to be Bradley's number one campaign tactic: make Gore look wishy-washy. He proved this on Saturday when he accused Gore of changing his mind on the abortion issue, and therefore not being a good candidate for women's groups.

Sixteen years ago, Gore told a constituent that it was his "deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong."

Today, Gore's campaign staff includes feminist advisors, and he has publicly confirmed his belief in a woman's right to choose.

Bradley, of course, would argue that women's liberties would be threatened if a pseudo-liberal like Gore took over the Oval Office.

For Gore to at one point have felt differently about abortion does not reflect anything except that over time his position has changed; he is a different person than he was in the 1970s, and maybe a better one. But in today's media-driven political system, changing a position on an issue can be a politician's worst nightmare.

Today's system forces public officials to watch the polls like hawks, figuring out not only what issues the public wants to hear about, but what position they ought to take so they won't be labeled an extremist, a softy or worst of all, a hypocrite.

If, perchance, John McCain gave a statement tomorrow that he realized the campaign finance reform might not be the most important campaign issue of all, his head would be on George W. Bush's campaign platter.

If Steve Forbes finally admits to the press that a 15 percent flat tax is actually a stupid idea, and he just keeps talking about it because he doesn't understand any of the other issues, he would become a laughing stock - or, an even bigger laughing stock.

The condition of having inconsistent positions has been coined "straddling," and all politicians seem to be using it against each other. The term first came up when George Bush accused Bob Dole of "straddling" in 1988 on the issue of cutting taxes.

Bradley supporters may argue that Gore's past flippancy on the abortion issue makes him a less reliable candidate for women's rights groups. But this argument overlooks the fact that Gore's support base requires that he support a woman's right to choose in order to get elected, and also that Gore could have very well come to see the issue differently after over 16 years of public service.

Even the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League admitted that Gore's position has "evolved" considerably over the years. This fact does not have to shed doubt on Gore's current position: "I've always supported Roe V. Wade. I have always supported a woman's right to choose. And let me say that if you entrust me with the presidency, I will guarantee that a woman's right to choose is protected."

Most voters would actually applaud a politician for admitting an error, reconsidering an issue or deciding that another position makes more sense. But such a politician is likely to be framed by his opponent as a hypocrite and will suffer the political consequences.

While most issues are not as insignificant as ordering fast food and most politicians will not change their mind so easily, the fact remains - a politician who changes his mind at any point in his career will be mistrusted instead of being applauded for honesty.

Sheila Bapat is a political science sophomore. She can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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