Flip-flops

I think it was New Mexico governor Bill Richardson at Mile-high stadium yesterday who said that “John McCain may pay hundreds of dollars for his shoes, but we’ll pay for his flip-flops.” Cute. I like Bill Richardson for the most part. But I take exception to this.

What’s wrong with flip-flops?

As foot-ware, I think they are wonderful. I wear them as much as I can. Spend any time with me at all and you know this. There is an acupuncture/pressure point between your big toe and it’s neighbor (right where the thong of a flip-flop goes), the stimulation of which, engenders well-being and longevity. This is why I’m as good-natured as I am, and also why I don’t expect to ever die.

Politically, I think the demonizing of flip-flops has been detrimental to discourse, and morally grounded leadership.

When I was in LA in August, my friend Anthony was talking about how when Arnold came into office, he had all these strong opinions and ideas. He loaded up the ballot with all kinds of initiatives with the expectation of sweeping changes. They got beaten. Badly. So Arnold changed his mind. And he is now passionately pursuing things that are almost the opposite of what he was saying during the re-call election. This seems profoundly healthy. It is democracy as dialogue. It is an elected official understanding that his job is to act upon the will of the people, even when that’s not what he said he was going to do. Democrats love to decry Republicans like Schwarzenegger as ideologues. Clearly he is not.

When did we start valuing consistency and “keeping promises” over listening and adaptability? Isn’t the ability to read the lay of the land and respond, more valuable than the ability to articulate positions that will hold no matter what?

It’s fine to have a plan. Good to have a map. But a map is not the territory, and a plan is nothing but a launching pad. Often it seems like people who “stick to their guns” are like drivers who follow their GPS systems into walls, or off cliffs. This is one of many things that bothers me about any form of partisanship. Given the inherent complexity of life, your team/party/country/gender/mythology, no matter how wonderful, is not always going to be “the best”, so to claim that it is, is to set yourself up for stupidity.

I’m not a complete idiot. Of course there are consistencies that are grounded in reality. But whether the universe is primarily characterized by change or consistency is a matter of scale. I would argue that if you pull back far enough, violent, wrenching chaos is pretty characteristic of this thing we’re calling reality. So wisdom seems to dictate flexibility and articulation in our being within it.

When Barak Obama articulates his convictions about our fundamental responsibility to each other; that we are each others’ keepers, I hope he doesn’t change his mind about that. But there are plenty of things that I don’t agree with him about. There are plenty of things I wish he would go further on. I support him to the extent that I trust that he will stay awake in office, and change, listen and flip-flop when needed.

If you look at many of the worst leaders in history, their behavior features astounding levels of consistency and trustworthiness. They stick to their guns, often literally. I don’t think I need to name the obvious examples.

Abraham Lincoln (a Republican president who turns out, apparently, to be Obama’s grandfather), did not enter the white house intending to abolish slavery. He did it, when it became an expedient measure in winning the war to unify the country. I think we can argue about whether or not the union was important enough to justify a bloody war; something Lincoln was unwavering in his certainty about. But I don’t know a good argument against the abolition of slavery. And that was something Lincoln flip-flopped on.

My namesake, Trotsky, was killed because he thought the wheel of revolution should keep turning. Most revolutions turn sour because once in power the revolutionaries become inflexible, consistent, stones. Solid and certain of their positions and their hold on power.

Anne says: The result of certainty is violence.

Cause I’m a jerk, I say: Are you certain of that?

She hits me, and I realize she’s right.

I hope Barak Obama wins. I encourage us all to get out there and do whatever we can to bring this about. It’s not in the bag and I hope we don’t blow it again this time. Given the current political realities in the United States this is probably going to mean presenting him as consistent, solid, unwavering and trustworthy. But whether he’s going to be a good president is going to depend on how flexible his spine is. His facility for mental yoga.

So, again, I hope Barak Obama wins. And I hope he wears flip-flops in the white house.

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