The parties flip too

Author: John Monczunski

In the last presidential election John Kerry was accused of it, and now they say Mitt Romney is guilty. Their sin? The “issue flip” aka the “waffle.” For some reason, candidates are not supposed to alter their views on public policy matters. However, Notre Dame political scientist Christina Wolbrecht notes that historically political parties as well as individual politicians have changed their minds on issues time and again.

Using 1948 as an example, Wolbrecht points out that the Republican party had a plank in its platform calling for a United Nations standing army. “Of course, Republicans don’t support that now, and, in fact, some don’t support the U.N. at all,” she says.

While today Democrats are widely regarded as the party championing women’s rights, the Republicans once led the way, notes the author of a book charting the parties’ changing positions on women’s issues.

“A lot of this has to do with how we think about policy matters, how they’re framed,” the associate professor of political science says. “In the 1950s, for instance, when people talked about women’s rights they didn’t mean abortion. They were thinking about things like equal pay laws. And that’s an issue that makes sense to pro-business Republicans.”

The environment is another example. Today environmentalism is seen as “hippie-ish” and countercultural, a “Democratic” issue. However, Wolbrecht observes that in the 19th century it was the Republicans, led by Teddy Roosevelt, who were at the forefront, setting up the national park system to protect wilderness for sportsmen and hunters.