Does your position on any issue change if it is a member of the political party you support that is in office? I had the opportunity today to talk to a friend who was a vehement opponent of using unmanned drones against enemies who might be American citizens when that program was used somewhat sparingly during the Bush administration. When speaking to him today, I find that now he wholeheartedly supports the same use of drone strikes under President Obama. The difference being that the current action is being done under a democratic administration and the past action under a republican administration. I was surprised and upset by my friend's flip-flop, but it got me thinking when I got home.
I began to think that we might actually be defining our politics more as retrospective politicians and less as prospective politicians. What I mean by the term "retrospective politics" can also be, at least partially interchanged with, situational politics. Our political viewpoints change depending upon who is proposing or "prospecting" the position. If we are a republican and a republican supports an issue, we support it. If a democratic administration supports the issue, those who are republicans shift to a position of being against it. The same thing exists on the other side of the aisle on issues that used to have common ground.
What are retrospective politics? Think for a moment back to the Affordable Care Act which became the flashpoint for the first term of the Obama Presidency. In 2008, an alien visiting earth for the first time would have thought that the ACA was a bill that the democrats had fought for throughout the past century and the republicans opposed tooth and nail. Could they have been more surprised to have learned that the original outline of the ACA was lifted, almost entirely, from the Robert Dole / Trent Lott Health Care Proposal of 1994 which was heartily supported by republicans and widely repudiated by democrats as too conservative. It was also almost a copy of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care program. It was a demonstration of retrospective politics at it's worst. Whatever the other party supports, almost everyone in the opposing party comes out against. Do any of us really believe that every one of us had made a 180 degree turn on this issue. What we see here is a politics of convenience.
In the 1950s, the republican party was the party of minority rights, by 2012, we've flip-flopped positions. As late as the 1980s, the republican party cheered their Ivy League roots. The exclusive college roots and business acumen of republicans was the trademark of the party. The democratic party, while not anti-education, was considered the party of the working man. By the 2012 election season, Rick Santorum, one of the leading republican candidates during the primary season, railed that the democratic president wanted everyone to go to college, and for that they were snobs. Later in the campaign, he even said that the intelligent were not the republican's targets. This anti-education position of the republican party was never there before the Clinton years when presidential candidacies of presidential candidates were of Rhodes Scholar levels. A terrible example of retrospective politics.
Finally, look at the current debt battle. To listen to republicans, this is a problem that they have forever fought. But just in the last republican administration, it was the democrats who railed against the debt, while the Vice-president, Dick Cheyney told anyone who would listen that deficits didn't matter as the republicans moved the nation from a budgetary surplus to huge budgetary deficits.
What does this all mean? Well first, it means that both parties have demonstrated their share of hypocrisy when taking a stand on issues. The current gridlock in Washington is, in many respects, a phony roadblock, fueled more by personal animosity than by ideological difference. Second, it means that many of us who identify with political parties allow ourselves to be led by our noses by ridiculous flips in positions by our political representatives, are abrogating their ability to think for themselves. And third, until we begin to hold our politicians to positions that they take and not flip on a dime, we will continue to get the lousy government that have. Those that govern have to know how to govern and they have to find common ground with one another to keep our country in the international fore.