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Biden's mistakes, Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald J. Trump, Democratic Presidential candidate, Campaign 2020, gaffes, DNC, Democratic Party

Illustration by Bruce Plante on Cagle Cartoons

“He flip-flopped! He used to say this and now he says that! How can you trust someone who keeps changing their mind?”

We’ve allowed our opponents to frame changing our mind as a failure when it is in fact exactly the opposite. The only way to never change our mind is to never learn a single new fact, to never listen to a previously unheard point of view. I can’t imagine anything more damning.

“Do you regret your vote to approve the war in Iraq?” we ask, hoping for a Gotcha moment. “Do you regret your support of mass incarceration?” “Do you think you were wrong to support deregulation?”

It’s not just OK to change our minds. It’s 100% disqualifying for a political candidate or elected official not to. At least, that’s what I believe now. Ask me again in a couple of years.

Politicians would rather go down in flames than admit they’ve ever made a single mistake in a thirty-year-long career. But if they can’t admit it, they can’t change their policy positions. Not admitting one’s mistakes is perhaps the biggest mistake anyone can make, politician or not.

As a Mormon, I rallied against the Equal Rights Amendment because the “Prophet” said that women were already equal. They simply had a different role than men did. And this amendment, Latter-day Saint leaders insisted, would destroy the family. I believed my religious leaders and did as I was told.

Was that a mistake?

Of course it was! But I’m not omniscient. I can only base my decisions on the information I have at the time. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It’s true under virtually any circumstances.

I volunteered two years of my life to work as a Mormon missionary, telling Catholics in Rome to repent and follow the “true” church. I “bore my testimony” that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, that Joseph Smith was a prophet. In college, I gave my professors a copy of the Book of Mormon as a parting gift at the end of each semester. I paid tithing to a church that claimed homosexuality was a sin next to murder.

Do I regret my behavior as a Mormon back then?

Hell, I regret my behavior now! I’m still constantly making mistakes. And so is everyone else. If other people have a difficult time trusting me because I make mistakes, I’ll have just as much trouble trusting them if they insist they never make errors. If I ever claim my heroes can’t make mistakes, I’m doing both them and myself a disservice.

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Even when I think I’m mostly right—I’ve been a supporter of universal healthcare for decades—the specifics of how to accomplish that goal can easily be tweaked and refined.

I’ve long understood we need to address the environment, conservation, and climate. But if I’ve been promoting wind energy and it turns out we need to focus on thermal, I can adapt to the specifics in accomplishing the overall goal.

And if the Earth is struck by a meteor or we suffer the eruption of a supervolcano and it turns out we suddenly need to battle global cooling instead, we adjust in response to the new circumstances, when we have new information.

When I was a Republican, I believed the GOP was the party of God. When I changed party affiliation and became a Democrat, I believed I’d “seen the light.” Now I agree more often than not with Democratic Socialist ideas. But it’s not that I disagree with everything Democrats or Republicans believe, even if those beliefs cause my friends to become upset with me.

I invite folks who think differently to explain their position, provide evidence, and if what they say makes sense, I’ll change my mind. If not, perhaps they’ll come up with some better reasoning and stronger evidence later, and I’ll change my mind then. Or maybe not.

Healthcare is a human right. I’m not likely to ever change my mind about that.

But I encourage everyone to stop being afraid of being wrong. We must stop worrying about being discredited if we admit to mistakes. And we need to remember that even our greatest heroes, living or dead, can be questioned. Their words are not scripture.

And as I’ve learned, even “scripture” isn’t necessarily the word of God.

Politics is messy. Morality is messy. Life is messy. So let’s stop worrying about slipping in the mud. We will fall, and then we need to pull ourselves up and keep moving.

It’s not just OK to change our minds. It’s 100% disqualifying for a political candidate or elected official not to.

Johnny Townsend

At least, that’s what I believe now. Ask me again in a couple of years.

Johnny Townsend