The Anatomy of a Flip-Flop

Today I don my scientist lab coat, grab my clipboard, and ask the humble question of a seeker of knowledge: “What is a flip-flop?”

Roll up your sleeves because we’re going to have to dissect a pair to get some answers. I hope you enjoy the smell of formaldehyde. Don’t you don’t have to worry about cancer if the stuff splashes on you or it’s upriver from your house. The Small Business Administration (SBA) says it’s fine and dandy. When it comes to science and substances that might be carcinogens there is no greater authority than the SBA. Wanting money has a lot to do with the science of a substances being a carcinogen or not, right?

And when government officials tell you that our old friend formaldehyde in the drinking water is nothing to worry about, I, for one, say drink up and let’s propose a toast to those who put our safety first.

Can you ever really have too much formaldehyde? Seriously.

But I digress before I dissect. Be liberal with that formaldehyde and splash it on your flip flops. Remember, kids, this is all in the name of science.

The year was 2004. A named George W. Bush wanted to be re-elected.

I spewed ’bout your flip-flop
I had to be on top
Cause the White House I called my home
Issues in the blender
Magic will render
All of those votes that I’m countin’ on!

Ah. The wisdom of Karl Rove. “Call him names. That’ll get ya elected.” Yes, all the hung in the balance was the fate of one man. Nothing else mattered.

Bush vs Kerry. The presidential mano-a-mano. A mere three years had elapsed since 9/11. People who voted for Bush said they based their decision on issues like terrorism and “family values.” Kerry supporters, however, cited other concerns like the war in Iraq, the economy, jobs, and health care. (Source: MSNBC.)

But the overriding “narrative” (in politics that’s adisgusting word) out of the Bush campaign was the Kerry was a flip-flopper. That he was King O’ The Waffles.

The entire Bush re-election was based on a verbal gaffe FUBAR of epic dimensions by John Kerry while speaking at Marshal University on Sept. 29, 2004.

I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
–John F. Kerry

During clarifying remarks, Kerry called the statement “one of those inarticulate moments.” The Bush campaign responded by featuring the Kerry quote in television ads and making the point that Kerry flip-flops on issues, particularly the war in Iraq.

The key question for this scientist now becomes: What is a flip-flop?

Back then it seemed clear. It was changing your mind on an issue. But is that really that bad? At the time, John Edwards had also changed him mind about the war in Iraq. When asked about it, though, he simply said, “I made a mistake.” That sort of honest simplicity seemed to play better with voters.

These days, though, when politicians “evolve” lifetime stances on the issues from one side of the binary equation to the other, the “flip-flop” sort of name calling seems almost passé.

Barack Obama recently “evolved” his pat answer on gay marriage. Exciting heady times as you can no doubt tell by the response from the lamestream media. However, he couched his evolution by clearly indicating it was his personal opinion. As far as I know he hasn’t actually made the opinion into something more substantial like a campaign promise.

Mitt Romney also “evolved” his lifetime position on abortion. I was discussing this with a Romney supporter and they claimed, “There no flip-flop here.” I tried, really tried, to argue the point, but they wouldn’t have it.

“Romney himself has admitted he’s changed his mind. That’s no flip-flop.”

I guess that depends on the definition of a flip-flop. Have we all agreed on a definition? I don’t think so.

Kerry. Edwards. Obama. Romney. What are the flip-flop moments? Did they simply change their minds? Was it an “evolution?” Merely “mistakes” that have, apparently, since been corrected? How are we to know why particular animal itreally is? By listening to the opposition folks? Hardly. I sincerely doubt they are the best source for unbiased information on the topic.

I finally had enough to formulate my hypothesis:

Flip-Flop/Hobbiton Definition Hypothesis:

A “flip-flip” cannot merely be a one-way street. It must be more than a one-time position change on a binary issue. This definition is too limiting. Such an updated point of view can too easily be described as a mistake or an evolution.

My theorem states that a flip-flop must contain tertiary states. In Hobbit terms, this is also known as “There and Back Again.”

The three tertiary states of a flip-flop therefore must be:

  • Binary condition A. This is also known as the Starting Point.
  • Binary condition B. The switch from A to B is the “There” part of the Hobbit definition.
  • Binary condition A. The switch from B and back to A. This is the “Back Again” part of the Hobbit definition.

Based on this hypothesis, a one-time issue switch doesn’t meet the criteria. Atwo-time position switch is required. Only then can one truly be said to be a flip-flopper. (Waffles is another term that can be substituted interchangeably.)

The flip-flop appellation can also be further strengthened by the degree of self-servingness involved at the time of the position changes.

To illustrate this theory, I offer the case of Mitt Romney. Mitt claims (as does his defender that I talked with) that his position on abortion was merely an “evolution.” Is that true?

  • 1994, in Massachusetts, while running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy: “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.”
  • 2001, in Utah, while considering a run for office: “I do not wish to be labeled pro-choice.” (Letter to the Editor, Salt Lake Tribune, July 11, 2001.)
  • 2002, in Massachusetts, while running for Governor: “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Ah. Hypothesis confirmed! Isn’t science exhilarating! Mitt Romney, the Hobbit, went there and back again. And, if you’ll note, each of his position shifts was calculated exactly based on his current needs to get what he wanted. Pro-life would make election difficult in Massachusetts and pro-choice would make it near impossible in Utah.

I submit that these are the true flip-flops we’ve all been looking for since 2004. I stand ready to accept the Nobel Prize in flip-floppiness. I take this branch of science quite seriously. I do not waver on flip-flops.

Bring on the peer review while I kick it with a Margarita and get myself a new tattoo.

8 responses

  1. All I know is that the sandals I used to call thongs are now called flip flops. These name changes for simple clothing items and footwear make my head spin.

    Maybe Mitt should have just voted “present” on the issues. It worked for a certain junior senator in Illinois for a while before he jumped into the big leagues.


    1. These are the only thongs that rock my feet!

      Voting “present” may be snarky, but at least it takes more spine and backbone than the “There and Back Again” flip-flop.


      1. Cool Mules!
        Voting “present” is a cop-out — just a political strategy, just like evolving on same-sex marriage… The NY Times tries to give him cover here. Hey, these two are politicians, a slimy breed.


      2. I agree with you that it is a cop out. No argument there. It’s gutless fence sitting. I still rank it slightly less offensive than the There and Back Again flip-flop.


  2. Doubt flip flops will be at the heart of this year’s campaigning. Oh, how I miss the simpler flat out buffoonery of the past…
    No, not really.


    1. You’re probably right. Hey, you gave me an idea. Let’s get our predictions in now. What key non-issue thing will have an impact on this election? Sure, if we could scan Karl Rove’s brain the answer would probably be patently obvious, but we haven’t achieved that level of nano-technology yet. (A little brain joke.)

      Will Romney’s Mormonism play a significant part? Dog Gate? Birther crap? What will be the #1 side issue this season, I wonder?


  3. I’ve been thinking about it and it comes down to this. John Kerry’s flip-flop heard ’round the whole had two “position states.” Before and after. That’s it. No matter how you look at it, or how “inarticulate” the moment, it was only a SINGLE change.

    On an issue like abortion, however, Romney had at least FOUR position states.

    1. Pro-choice (starting point?)
    2. Pro-life (letter to editor)
    3. Pro-choice (Mass. governor)
    4. Pro-life (presidential candidate)

    That’s at least THREE changes.

    In other words, Romney is at least 3x the flip-flopper as John Kerry. Where are all the people who were so worked up about flip-flopping back in 2004? They’ve seemingly disappeared. Where is the same level of disgust? The same umbrage? That same philosophy that flip-flopping is bad?

    Meanwhile, the Pro-Choice people in Massachusetts claim he made promises “he did not keep.”

    Now, the pro-life version of Mitt Romney, has yet to sign the Susan B. Anthony List pro-life pledge, something every major Republican candidate for president signed. Yet the organization endorsed Romney, finally, in April 2012, no doubt a desperation move to do anything to defeat Obama who they call “the most ideologically pro-abortion president in our nation’s history.”

    It makes you wonder, though. Romney told Mass. electorate he was pro-choice and then broke his promises. It was basically a totally meaningless statement. Something said only in the context that it would help him get elected. There’s a word for that. It’s “pandering.”

    Now he says he’s pro-life yet won’t sign a pledge to that effect. Playing both sides to the bitter end. Fence, meet Romney. It must be destiny because it is a match made in heaven.

    He’s always hedging his bets, refusing to be boxed in, even now with the pro-life crowd, and, in the end, always does what he thinks is best, promises and statements to the contrary be damned.

    My analysis? He bet on the fact that he’d win the Republican nomination without signing the pledge. It was a calculated move that now pays dividends when he’s forced to drift towards the center to have electability. He played it just right.

    Yeah, he’s a real stand up guy.


  4. Mitt Romney on FOX News: “I’m pretty proud of a very conservative record [as governor of Massachusetts].”

    “Over the last multiple years, as you know, I have been effectively pro-choice, I never called myself that as a label but I was effectively pro-choice and that followed a personal experience in my extended family that led to that conclusion.”
    -Mitt Romney, January 29, 2007, during a visit to South Carolina

    Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up!


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