In politics–and perhaps in life–saying “I was wrong” can be the hardest thing to do.

Paul Krugman recently considered the refusal of political actors to admit error when their predictions (generally of doom and gloom) fail to materialize.

You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course.

Of course, changing one’s position on an issue–evolving, as it were–is politically dangerous. Being labeled a “flip flopper” is often fatal to electoral success. (As Krugman notes, “gotcha” journalism is a lot easier than policy analysis.) Krugman goes through several high-profile predictions that failed to materialize without triggering much in the way of media finger pointing; the political figures who made those predictions have been allowed to pretend they never said that–or in the case of the more rigid ideologues, to insist that they were right, and the administration is “cooking the books” to hide the “real” facts.

[A]s far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.

Krugman’s focus, of course, is on economic predictions, but intellectual integrity is, as he insists, a character issue that manifests itself in many areas of life. People who refuse to admit to their mistakes are deeply flawed; they cannot be trusted to learn from experience. An ability to learn and grow is an essential attribute for someone who seeks public power, and an important and necessary characteristic of successful, well-adjusted people generally.

The problem is, we have a political system that rewards pandering, not honesty, and it is increasingly difficult to tell whether a purported change of mind is an appropriate response to evidence inconsistent with prior expectations or a cynical effort to win the approval of a critical voting block.


  1. I just read Mr. Krugman’s article on Facebook; clicked “like” and “share” and commented that it is a “must read”. Direct and to the point. We all “flip’flop” on issues as situations and conditions change; as we learn more by paying attention and going beyond what is handed to us by much of the media with no source of proof. This is called evolving; nothing scientific about it, it is simply seeking information and facts before making decisions. Especially when it comes to selecting candidates before heading to the polls. By the way; I do believe there is an election on Tuesday – will you be there? I will; bright an early.

    Matthew Tully’s column this morning, “A lousy legislative session finally ends” is a real butt kicker. I E-mailed him; sending him a “Bravo” and a “standing O” for this one. If there were prizes given for the greatest waste of time, energy and tax money – the past Indiana Legislative session would be the winning name read aloud when the envelope was opened.

  2. Why do I think there’s an implied subject of John Gregg and his flip-flop on LGBT rights in this column?

    Gregg’s going to have a hard time convincing me he has “evolved” on the issue of LGBT rights – the fact is that all the evidence was in front of him BEFORE the last time he ran for election. We were right there, presenting him with all the information. If he failed to read and internalize it at the time and maintained his anti-LGBT stance, that’s his problem.

    The fact is, he lost because he didn’t have the support of the LGBT community or women behind him. I didn’t vote for him – I split my ticket and left the governor blank to avoid voting for Gregg. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. And I was vocal about what I was planning to do long before the election, and I know that had an impact. I’m not egotistical enough to believe that I cost him the election, but I’m certain that it didn’t help him. Those small pockets of vocal support is what a candidate needs to build throughout the state. He didn’t have those.

    Gregg isn’t going to get my support this election either. The Democratic party has time to do better this election. They need to step up with a better candidate.

  3. Indiana is a place where the political parties are well established. I’ve always thought of my choices as between one who may slap me around once in a while vs another who would put bamboo under my nails and gouge out my eyes.

    I’m seeing my eye surgeon tomorrow. I typed this with the tip of my tongue.

  4. Steph; one issue does NOT a candidate make. I fully support all LGBT issues; have family, in-laws, gay and lesbian friends and have had for many years. Gregg may have been educated by Pence’s RFRA law and “fix” fiasco – let’s hope so or we could get Pence again. Gregg could change his support without changing is personal views – some elected officials are smart enough to “go with the flow” and cast support on public need and/or outcry rather than party opinion. We never know what is in their minds; only what they say during campaigns. I will check out all candidate’s issues and look at their histories before deciding against one possible candidate on one issue – albeit a major issue. LGBT issues are primary in Indiana; but so are public education, public safety, collapsing infrastructure, wasted tax dollars on sports venues, tax incentives for private businesses, and the list goes on.

  5. Those who think for themselves see intellectual honesty as necessary, “flip flopper” as a manufactured pejorative used by media issuing opinions to drag the competition down when there is nothing good that be said about the person paying them.

    It’s the main ingredient in a system designed and built by oligarchs to empower their wealth.

  6. Whatever made John Gregg change his mind, I’m glad for it and celebrate him for it. Most of the rest of America has evolved right along with him. As my pastor’s wife noted, we’ve made more progress on this issue in the last 10 years than in the entire prior history of the human race.

    Progress on race relations, religious tolerance, and equal rights for women has also taken forever but as Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “…the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It only bends with sustained pressure to do so, but we must also take care not to lose the progress already won. To all those who have evolved, thank you, thank you, thank you.

  7. Please watch John Boehner being interviewed on “Meet The Press” this morning. It is an excellent eaxmple of your point.

  8. The people that are, unfortunately, running the Republican Party at the national level will not, under any circumstances, let anything undermine the false narrative that they are peddling. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with taking the high road regarding failures or statements that turn out over time to be erroneous, all of us do that, but what Speaker Boehner said this morning, or any morning, is way beyond that. Boehner and his ilk, the nadir of the Republican Party, have passed on their fraudulent view of reality for so long that I think they actually believe it themselves. They use it to build even more falsehoods. Fortunately the much-maligned 24-hour news cycle provides us all with ample evidence of what has actually transpired and how much it really varies from what these people are saying. Somehow, some way, this has to be exploited and used against them next year as forcefully as possible.

  9. Tom; your comments reminded me of the 2008 presidential election campaigns. Wanting to be fair, I TRIED to watch both side’s campaign speeches. I would watch what Barack Obama and Joe Biden said then watch what John McCain and Sarah Palin said they said. The blatant lies were, of course, much worse than out-of-context misrepresentations but this seemed to be their campaign platform rather than concentrating on what they would, or wanted to do for this nation. Knowing the minds of staunch Republican voters, they were aware that few would be watching the Democratic campaign so they felt safe in their lies. That has escalated to the level we have dealt with the past few years through Boehner’s leadership of the GOP, paid for by the Tea Party, Koch brothers, NRA, et al. I have watched one of my children’s childhood friends post issues supported by President Obama and the Democratic party; such as changing women’s lower pay, raising minimum wage, pro-choice issues, LGBT rights – including marriage, and many other issues – then she will post an “Impeach Obama” article on Facebook. She is indicative of those who don’t really know who stands for what on vital issues but remains a Republican and is anti-Obama and believes every word spoken against him and his administration. You cannot force-feed common sense to those with closed minds.

  10. Of course, now we have several insurance carriers requesting 30% + rate increases due to what they say is Obamacare… (source: Wall Street Journal.)
    Adverse selection means those who needed the insurance coverage and weren’t able to obtain it were happily waiting to get it. Those who don’t need the coverage have not been given adequate “incentive” to obtain it. Therefore, those with higher claims history are signing up and those who are healthy aren’t to as great a degree. Consequently, the $18000 a year we pay for our $6000 deductibles ($12,000 if both of us hit our max) could easily go to $23400 a year for a maximum out of pocket risk of $35,400. Therefore, I would have to disagree with your comment that “soaring premiums” have not happened. They are indeed happening. What needs to ALSO happen is a more potent incentive (read penalty) for failure to carry health insurance.

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