What is the Powder Room?

By now you've probably heard at least of this interview:


So, Hillary Clinton changed her mind on something, and tried to waffle around it. Now we're talking about it like it's a huge deal. But why is it a big deal? It's not, really. People change their mind all the time. And they should. I hate the notion that people's opinions should be static and unchanging to fit some ideological constant. Opinions should change based on the evidence before someone. However, politicians can be shrewd, and often do what they think maximizes their chances of being elected. This leaves us with two possibilities here:

1. Clinton was legitimately against gay marriage during her husband's presidency and then changed her opinion, which is a good thing. That's progress in her opinions and that should be applauded. What shouldn't be applauded is her trying to avoid the question with a wishy-washy answer. However, does she have a choice? In this political atmosphere, probably not. In a politics where the only correct answer is often only one, unchanging answer, Clinton has no choice but to try to make it seem like she hasn't "flip-flopped." American politics privileges ideological constancy over thoughtful consideration of issues, and Clinton knows it.



2. Clinton is going the way of the political atmosphere, which, depending on your view, is also possibly good. If you want her to support your cause, who cares if she actually believes it? The end result is the same whether or not the politician is just being crassly political. However, this is also why most people are likely to doubt #1.

But let's say, as a supporter of LGBT rights, Clinton comes out and says, "yeah, I changed my opinion from 20 years ago," the correct response should be "Nice!" Because opinions should change to fit the evidence and your understanding of the situation. Often, however, the response has been, "you're a flip-flopper!" or some such nonsense. This is not limited to politics, and regularly occurs in discussion elsewhere. It's a problem, because it further encourages disingenuous behavior and encourages people to take inconsistent positions.

To this I say: be willing to change your opinions to fit the evidence and accept that others will change theirs. Ideological rigidity is bad, and we should want people who are honest and open to new ideas in leadership roles. Sure, we don't want someone who just blows with the popular wind, but we also want someone who isn't afraid to be flexible with opinions and decisions. If we are going to attack ideologues for being inflexible, we shouldn't be attacking people for changing opinions or withholding opinions when it's unclear.


I think Clinton could have handled this better, but in a political culture where we jump on people for not constantly "saying the right thing," are we surprised that she can't win with this? I don't blame Gross for pressing on the issue (that's her job), but even if Clinton is being crassly political, most politicians can't change positions easily because everyone's constantly on the offensive. Is it any wonder, then that we can't have an honest politics?

(Note: I realize this is not limited to our era, and that this sort of rancor was common since... hell... the Peloponnesian War. But it's still bad.)

Share This Story

Get our newsletter