Former Congressman Harold Ford has been making headlines lately for testing the political water for a U.S. Senate run in New York. Well, he ran into a shark in the West Village. During the speech, Ford said he had “matured” and changed his stance on gay marriage. You’d think the Stonewall Democrats – a gay rights group – would be thrilled to hear they’ve converted someone. Nope. As Ford continued his remarks, he was greeted with signs and hecklers calling him “liar” and worse (click here for video, I suggest the second video).
Regardless of the fact that they might not want Ford as a Senate candidate and are not likely to vote for him, shouldn’t they still be happy he changed his mind? Instead, this group has stifled discussion, debate and on some level, the chance at some political integrity (if there is such a thing).
These organizations who support a cause and demonstrate for their group’s rights/interests/message need to embrace a public admission and change of heart. The problem is, these groups (including the media covering them) make the cost of changing one’s mind or the cost of being convinced by new experiences or new evidence so high that it’s too dangerous to announce a change like this. The incentive is to never change or even consider another opinion because you’ll be labeled a “liar” or “flip-flopper”. Politicians are frightened by easy sound bites and as a result, never re-evaluate major choices.
We should support honest politicians who admit to a change of heart rather than scare, mock and insult them.
Now, I don’t know if Ford has any integrity or if he’s just a selfish opportunist who is changing his position to try to get elected in New York. That’s why I’m not writing to support Ford but to support a larger idea. Also, I’m not asking the Stonewall Democrats to vote for him, fund raise for him or even support him at all.
What I am saying is we need to not use phrases like “liar” and “bigot” unless they actually apply. This is a guy who may have learned something in his life and is supporting this group’s platform. I know they have the right to free speech and can decide to say whatever they want. But, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue. Whether or not you agree with the right of gay marriage, I think the tide seems to be turning and he probably noticed culturally differences between his former district Tennessee and New York City where he lives now. What’s not to believe about his change of heart?
If these groups are looking to change people’s minds and aren’t accepting of politicians who mature on issues, then it’s no wonder things never change. The incentive is one of never being open to new ideas. Ever.
And that’s the opposite of the environment I want. That’s not integrity at all. I would hope that we’d all be open to new ideas and willing to rethink our beliefs and values if presented with a significant life experience or new evidence. I think the strongest beliefs are those that we test, doubt, research, prove and reprove. Being able to re-evaluate one’s beliefs, especially politically, is important to understanding them and being able to discuss/defend them. No matter which side you’re on when it comes to controversial issues in this country, I suggest we’re all more open to testing our own beliefs, making sure we believe them and being open to new ideas if convinced otherwise.