February 2012

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Politics and the Right to Change One’s Mind

by Bruce Clark

Are you now or have you been … whatever? Mr. Romney, why have you flip-flopped on the illegal immigration issue? Mr. Paul, did you approve of this racist literature about twenty years ago? Members of the media (who are generally, in my opinion, not all that bright, astute or unbiased) ask candidates such questions all of the time. They are looking for some “gotcha” on the candidate, something perhaps embarrassing. Often, it’s done as an outright attack, something that is inappropriate for supposedly-objective journalists. But is this what we really want in political campaigns?

Journalists say that they are trying to give maximum information to the electorate, and that this is what people want to know about candidates. But is it really? Certainly the change of view on some subject is important for the electorate to understand a candidate’s views and how his or her mind works. This is especially true when a candidate changes views opportunistically, merely so that the voters of some party will elect him or her, but might revert to the former position after election. However, does the “gotcha” approach get to the important facts that the public needs to know? No!

I vote, always. I’m a registered independent and not bound to any political party. Over the years, I have voted for members of various parties, and have also written in someone’s name on a ballot. Various things influence how and for whom I vote, and whether or not a candidate has changed views on some subject ranks pretty low on the importance scale. I do wish to know if a candidate changes views whenever the wind direction varies. But I also want to elect someone who thinks, and changes views after due consideration of the various happenings in the world. The “gotcha” approach denies me this information, because it treats all variations as negative, as something done dishonestly or opportunistically. I might be cynical, but I’m not stupidly cynical, like the idiot reporters who trade in “gotchas.”


So, Romney changed his mind, formerly wanting to give a “path to citizenship” to people who entered the country illegally, showing no respect for the laws of the United States. He now is saying “secure the border, employment verification and no special pathway to citizenship. I feel that’s the course we ought to take.” Personally, I prefer his new position. But can I have confidence that it is his real one? I haven’t seen any articles that question Romney’s change in depth, that show that the reporter has drawn from Romney both the detailed reasons why he formed his original view on the issue and why he changed his mind. Perhaps it’s out there somewhere and I haven’t discovered it. More likely, it isn’t, because shallow reporters only want to show that it happened and not how it happened and if it is real.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul is something apart from the rest of the Republican political munchkins. He’s not really a Republican, but a libertarian. On social issues, he is more liberal than the liberals, at least those who call themselves that. (As for real, traditional liberals who really are liberal, perhaps he is not. Please don’t ask me to name one, though; I can’t.) On economic issues, he easily qualifies as being right wing. Nutty, in my opinion. But is he a racist?

The “Racist” Newsletters

I went searching for those “racist newsletters” of Ron Paul. I found lots of articles declaiming against them, but I had to look a long time to find any original evidence, and even then it was only snippets. I didn’t try to read everything, but what I did read showed some things obviously not racist, and some things iffy. By iffy, I mean that a racist could have said it, but some non-racist who had a totally different outlook on the situation from the usual liberal outlook could have said it, also. Given my experience that many people in the liberal/progressive/radical portions of the political spectrum tend to brand anything that they disagree with as racist, sexist, or some other horror, I must say that I was underwhelmed with the racism of the Paul newsletter remarks. Even if I had the views of the writers of those remarks, I would not have phrased things the way they were presented in several cases. If Ron Paul did, as accused, approve of the newsletters’ contents, he did a poor job of supervising their content in many cases. However, in others, the readers should have taken into account the great difference in the overall point of view, and modified their judgments accordingly.

Certain web sites friendly to Paul did exactly that, as here, here and here. Also, some commenters tried to make some common criticisms between things written about Paul and things written about Obama. What I read of Paul’s comments about what was in the newsletters were weak. He should have, in my opinion, either taken responsibility and said that those were no longer his point of view, or to have produced evidence that he really didn’t know about them when they were written.

There is a side of this that, to my knowledge, has not been considered at all. The liberal portion of the country tends to think things racist were obviously racist and evil from time immemorial, and that anyone who is now truly non-racist should have been pure from their earliest ancestor. Real life is not that simple. One only needs to look at Northern Ireland, where people who served prison time for violent acts are now in place trying to defeat such activities and are part of the government. Similar things have happened in South Africa. People change.

Some Background

I lived in Houston, Texas, from late 1973 to the end of 1976, and maintain friends there to this day. (Ron Paul’s congressional district is not far from there, to the south and west. He is an integrated part of his district. Being a physician, Paul actually delivered into the world a significant part of the electorate of his district, hence the loyalty that keeps reelecting him.) In those days, Houston was on the cusp of change. It was a traditionally terribly racist part of the old south, where the Ku Klux Klan was very active and integrated into the police force and other community activities. On the other hand, it was an oil boomtown, with people moving there from all over, bringing with them the points of view of wherever they came from. It overtook Detroit as the 4th largest US city in that period. In terms of leadership, it was the 3rd largest port in the country and was desperately trying to gain respectability and cosmopolitanism. Changes in the city itself tended to trickle outward into the semi-rural areas in the outskirts, many of which were swallowed up into the Houston metropolis.

Rural areas of Texas tended to be worse, in terms of racism, than the urban areas. That does not mean, however, that attitudes were static in those places. Ideas were changing. However, since they tended to be more backward, in racial terms, they had a longer road to travel, and it took more time for those areas to catch up to the US average for such things.

I do not claim to know anything about Ron Paul’s attitudes in that period. However, it is obvious that he is an intelligent and thinking person. Moreover, he is involved in politics, and the fact that he has been successful in that regard tells us that he stays in touch with things in a broader-than-personal way. His political views, as wacky as his economic principles appear to those of us in the broad, US, independent or left-of-center establishment, might have been as mainstream as racism in his congressional district. For better or for worse, I am willing to cut Paul some slack in terms of the time it might have taken him to catch up to the US mainstream on racial issues; he had a longer road to travel.

What’s Paul’s Record?

At this point, anyone who takes the time to review Ron Paul’s views on race over the last one to two decades will see that he has been as conspicuously anti-racist as anyone could be. His libertarian philosophy has been refined over time and, whatever we might think of it in toto, we cannot in truth say that it is racist in any degree.

In terms of media coverage, we see that web sites more closely politically aligned with Ron Paul are more likely to take a broader view of the so-called racist newsletter comments than those sites more closely aligned with other candidates or parties. The former looks at those comments and sees the various ways such statements could be interpreted, given the ideology of Mr. Paul. The latter call them racist and move on. Why is that? Why is it that many commentators cannot try to honestly show the varying possibilities of interpreting the remarks of a political opponent? (I’m not trying to clear either side here; those who are trying to be honest about Ron Paul might be just as dishonest about Paul’s adversaries. I don’t know. I haven’t had time to follow the chains of criticism to that extent.)

A Serious Question: Paul and Obama

After considering the evidence on the public record, we are left with a serious question. If the newsletters of the past indicated that Ron Paul was a racist, and if President Obama’s long association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, only disrupted by public opinion, indicated that he was a racist, which of them has shown most definitively that he has changed his ways and is no longer a racist today? I think it is clear that the multitudinous anti-racist statements of Ron Paul in the intervening years clearly show that Ron Paul has changed his mind in a bona fide manner, and that Obama has not demonstrated the same.

And What About Obama?

There is one more side to this, not involving anyone currently running as a Republican. President Obama has a long, long, record of trying to weaken the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Other than appointing two people to the US Supreme Court who have anti-Second Amendment views, President Obama has tried to back off from a direct attack on the Second Amendment during his first term. All along, his campaigners and supporters have announced his desires to attack, but then those articles disappear. It is repeatedly announced by gun control organizations that President Obama is taking actions “under the radar,” but the administration then refuses to admit it. The Justice Department and the BATFE ran border campaigns that let illegally purchased weapons cross the Mexican border, one of which appeared at the scene of the murder of a Border Patrol agent, and the administration then tries to say that this justifies further restrictions on purchasing guns.

All of this indicates Obama’s hostility to the Second Amendment. What are we to say about the fact that, since the Bill of Rights is the defining document of the existence of the United States and that President Obama wants to dismember it, is Obama really an American in philosophy, or is he a European or an Asian with the philosophy that a person’s liberties and freedoms are what the government defines them to be? Clearly, I think it is the latter. A person who is half African and half American does not automatically become an African-American. Rather, he is a half-American, and this half is reduced by his possible adoption of the philosophies of the places he has lived outside of the United States.


However, the point, as relevant to this article, is this: If Obama were to read a bunch of books and consult the wisdom of a bunch of experts on the Second Amendment, and change, in a bona fide manner, his views on the Second Amendment, would he be merely a flip-flopper, or should he be respected as a person who is a thinker that responds to what he learns as time goes by? Would he demonstrate his sincerity by describing the details of his conversion and do his best to convince the gun-control knuckleheads in Congress, as well as his electoral supporters, I for one would accept it as a great step forward and dismiss any criticisms of him being a flip-flopper.

Changing one’s mind in a thoughtful manner is something to congratulate, not criticize.