Mirror Image

Political candidates are regularly accused of flip-flopping. But they’re not the only ones who do it.

Suppose that the incumbent president were a Republican named Amabo, and that (except for a few issues like marriage equality and abortion) he were running on a record identical to Obama’s.

Is there any doubt that Republicans would be touting President Amabo’s record on the economy, while Democrats were forever assailing his failure to bring down unemployment? That Republicans would be lauding their candidate as the greatest commander in chief since Reagan, with Democrats bitterly accusing him of betraying Israel?

Many, if not most, would be adopting talking points that are the exact opposites of those they’re using now. In many respects, it would be a mirror image of the present campaign.

This is not about Obama and Romney. This is about the abdication of principle in the interest of party allegiance and the cult of the leader. If your view of a politician’s record on issue x depends not on her record itself, but on her party or rhetorical skills or even her record on issue y, you’ve lost some of your own integrity.

This is not without consequences for the country as a whole.

Such switches of convenience would be harder to pull off without the shrinking differences between the two parties as they both move to the right. And when you adopt the other side’s arguments in order to help your candidate, you become more like them.

A similar thing operates when people withhold criticism of their candidate for political gain. Republicans give a pass to Romney for his Massachusetts health care mandate and past support for reproductive rights, while few Democrats find fault with Obama’s civilian-killing drone attacks and prosecution of whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning.

Maintaining our integrity as citizens is more important than who wins the election. We are responsible for the level of discourse in our political debates. Unless we hold ourselves to high standards, we end up with shapeshifters for leaders, and no hope of solving the very serious problems we face.

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