Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Am A Flip-Flopper!

One of the most interesting elements of Malcolm X's short life and career was that he did not hesitate to change his thinking when he learned more about a particular issue. The Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam was not the Malcolm X who was killed in 1965. He had moved from a defensive black superiority to an inclusive world view that did not revolve around a black sun.

Why is it that changing one's opinions has become a negative in American political life? Four years ago the Republicans successfully defined John Kerry as a "flip-flopper", and they're trying to do the same to Barack Obama. I never understood why John Kerry did not say, "Yes, I am intelligent enough to change my views when I am presented with information and knowledge I did not have previously. It is regrettable that President Bush does not exemplify the same intelligence."

But to call someone a flip-flopper because he changes his mind is a thinly veiled attack on intelligence. Many of us laugh at George Bush because he seems incapable of speaking in coherent sentences. However, many Americans find this aspect of Bush reassuring because it makes them feel like he is one of them. Bush and Kerry were contemporaries at Yale, but Bush was proud of not having been a good student. Many Americans who never made it to Yale were also not good students, and Bush redeemed their lack of academic achievements.

My fear is that Barack Obama can lose the election because of his obvious intelligence, his preference for nuanced thinking rather than polarizing positions on issues, and his willingness to rethink what he advocates and change his mind accordingly.

Intelligence should not be an object of contempt in a presidential campaign. But it was four years ago, and it is threatening to be so again.

It's time to stand up, people! Someone needs to make bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons so that we can proclaim loudly, "I'm a Flip-Flopper. I Think!"

© 2008 by Julius Lester

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