Stephen Goldstein: Charlie Crist on Cuba: Facing facts, not flip-flopping

Ralph Waldo Emerson was contemptuous of “foolish consistency,” calling it “the hobgoblin of little minds.” Oh Waldo, if you could see us now! By his eloquent standard, worse than consistent fools, Americans have devolved into intellectual Lilliputians.

It wasn’t ever thus. Some of our greatest presidents have been “wisely inconsistent,” sanely changing their minds in light of changing facts and circumstances.

Thomas Jefferson justified annexing the Louisiana Purchase, even when he believed he didn’t have Constitutional authority to do so. He wasn’t about to let “foolish consistency” keep him from doubling the size of the country.

Abraham Lincoln fought the Confederacy to preserve the Union, not initially to free the slaves. When he flipped on that score, he ensured his pre-eminent place in U.S. history. Running for re-election in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised not to get the country into a foreign war, but he flipped in light of the fact of Pearl Harbor.

History would have dubbed the great ones colossal flops if they hadn’t flipped. But in the slur-slinging of today’s political slug-fest, they would be tarred-and-feathered “flip-floppers.”

In the rough-and-tumble of today’s “gotcha” politics and media frenzy, candidates and elected officials who dare to have the mental mettle (aka common sense, honesty) to change their minds are branded flip-floppers, even in light of undeniable evidence (climate change) and evolving public opinion (majority approval of same-sex marriage).

Former President George H.W. Bush made the mistake of saying, “Read my lips. No new taxes,” to curry favor with conservatives. Then he did the right thing and raised them — but didn’t get re-elected.

Trying to live down the sin-flip of their father, former President George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush never change their minds — or admit to having been wrong (on Iraq? on Terri Schiavo?).

Others have followed suit. Mitt Romney signed universal health insurance into law in Massachusetts with an individual mandate, but was against it as a mainstay of the Affordable Care Act.

Which brings us to Charlie Crist, former Republican governor of Florida, who turned independent and is now running for governor as a Democrat. All his opponents think they have to do is point to his vagrant voter registrations to brand him the consummate man-without-a-moral-compass, who will land on the political lily pad du jour, as long as it might get him elected.

And now they believe he’s handed them a whopper. Crist wants to lift the 53-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. He hasn’t flipped soft on the Cuban government, which he calls “oppressive,” “totalitarian,” and “wrong.” He just says that the embargo hasn’t worked and that it’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Pragmatic, he points to the economic benefits Florida businesses and individuals would reap.

Crist is appealing to the evolving mainstream on Cuba. Most Floridians, even (especially younger) Cuban-Americans, want to see relations with the island normalized. He may even visit Cuba this summer. That should spook the “hobgoblin little minds” of his opponents to the max — and tie Crist to a policy of sanity.

Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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