Friday, September 03, 2004

Think Twice
No one wants to publish this, so you can have it for free:

I support John Kerry for President, because nothing inspires my confidence like a flip-flopper. In fact, when deciding which candidate to support, we would all be well-advised to pick the one who has changed his or her mind the most often. The way I see it, you simply can’t change your mind enough.

No one embodies the dangers of rarely having second thoughts about anything better than the current occupant of the White House. President Bush goes to great lengths – including abstaining from reading newspaper articles and books about current affairs – to avoid encountering events, ideas, and facts which might clash with his most deeply-held beliefs. Instead his advisors filter everything for him, up to and including intelligence about countries the President is about to invade. His myopia is so extreme that when asked earlier this year at a press conference if he had made any mistakes during his tenure in office, he couldn’t think of a single one.

This should disturb us because most normal people make several mistakes every day. I can probably think of 10 in the last 48 hours alone. To go three whole years without making a single error of any kind is a feat not even Cal Ripken could achieve. But the unsettling thing is not that Bush stonewalled the press about his mistakes, but rather that he genuinely believes his term to be mistake-free. Coming from a man who has presided over both the greatest net job loss since the Hoover administration and the worst act of terrorism in human history, such steel-jawed resolve seems strange at best, and blisteringly ignorant at worst.

By contrast, Senator Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to change his mind. After a tour of combat duty in Vietnam, Kerry had a change of heart about the wisdom of conducting a brutal war against a peasant agrarian society with little strategic importance, and became a leader of the anti-war movement. More recently, after voting to give President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, Kerry has come to the conclusion that he was mistaken. And lest he be accused of undue fealty to the polls, his second-guessing took place before public opinion had turned against the war.

Why do some people, unlike John Kerry, cling to beliefs and positions which are overwhelmingly contradicted by the available evidence? Most politicians, and even some major-league general managers, are very reluctant to flip-flop, for fear that a change of heart will reflect poorly on their ability to make sound decisions. Better to see a bad choice through to the end, they reason, than to admit goofing up in the first place.

Philadelphia’s own Ed Wade labored for six weeks under the delusion that the journeyman right-hander Paul Abbott is a legitimate answer to the Phillies’ fifth-starter problems. Despite the fact that Abbott was consistently abysmal, made it into the sixth inning only twice in eight starts, and sports a career ERA of nearly 5.00, it took Wade more than a month to finally send him packing.

Perhaps more importantly, evidence which contrasts with our core beliefs makes us very uncomfortable. For years I wore undershirts beneath my button-downs, even in the dense heat of the summer, believing that wearing two shirts actually makes you cooler. I liked the way the undershirts looked, and besides, my father had told me it was true, so I really wanted to believe it.

Growing evidence, in the form of persistent sweat stains, ruined shirts, and years of extreme heat-related discomfort, led me to acknowledge, subconsciously, that this belief was mistaken. It wasn’t until last June, battling the oppressive summer heat of Beirut, that I finally abandoned the Two Shirt Doctrine.

I am no different than most Americans, who have the good sense to perform the occasional about-face when things go awry. A year ago the public was solidly in favor of the Iraq adventure. After 12 months of car bombings, roadside ambushes, beheadings, kidnappings, suicide attacks, general lawlessness, and nearly 1,000 dead Americans, that same public has concluded that the whole idea was fundamentally mistaken in the first place.

A thoughtful person is able to revise his or her beliefs in light of new evidence, and to devise an adjusted course of action based on that updated information. Sometimes, of course, the situation calls for resolve, and occasionally the available evidence serves to obscure a deeper reality, but most of the time people just don’t want to admit that they’re wrong. This is one thing if t-shirts or pennant races are at stake, and quite another if it’s the future of the free world.

John Kerry, on the other hand, is the thinking person’s candidate, someone capable of recognizing and rectifying a mistake, as well as staying firm when necessary. So while his aides may not fancy it, I’d like to suggest a new campaign slogan – John Kerry, A President Who’ll Think Twice, Or Maybe Even Three Times.

It’s a sure-fire winner. I think.

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