Integrity and Representation

One of the most common complaints about politicians in general is their lack of integrity, their ‘flip-flopping’ on the issues. It’s also one of the most persistent criticisms of Hillary Clinton, even from some of her supporters. She is infamous for her dishonesty and lies. Yet when that is debunked, her integrity gets called into question to support the claims of dishonesty. Rarely does it even require stating; it’s taken as accepted fact that yeah, she goes with whatever will get her elected (her supporters will add “but” to the end of that). Bill Maher summed it up when he said the Clintons will never be the first to champion a cause, but they’ll get there eventually. Detractors call it lying, supporters call it pragmatism, but everyone agrees she’s got no ‘integrity’.

Here’s the tricky part of being a politician and having ‘integrity’: in a representative democracy, our politicians are supposed to represent us. That means regardless of their personal beliefs, they are elected to act on our behalf, not their own. Instead of lacking personal integrity, Clinton is a consummate political representative: if the majority of her constituency changes its mind, she acts accordingly. When Bernie Sanders’ progressive voice garnered so much support, she adjusted her stance to the left to include the Sanders’ crowd with those of democrats across a much larger spectrum. She hasn’t moved as far to the left as you’d like? It’s probably because she’s proposing to represent more than just you. Progressive voices have grown stronger in recent years, gaining traction, but here are still those in the center and middle-left who deserve, and have the right to, being represented as well. A candidate who only supports your specific interests is not likely going to get as much support as one who supports your interests in some areas, and others’ interests in other areas.

What goes into her political stances and speeches is not her own personal beliefs. She’s making the case for how she would represent us, based on what we want and believe, which inevitably changes over time. (As do politicians’ personal beliefs, but we are much less tolerant of someone in the public eye changing their mind, apparently.) If you disagree with her actions, take a look at the majority of those she represents — you’ll probably disagree with them, too, at least on that specific issue.

The Republican party has spent the last ten years catering to a right-wing, Tea Party insurgency that insists on ideological purity and uncompromising principles, which they define as personal integrity. The result is a Donald Trump candidacy, supporters who genuinely believe he is the best choice in November, and Republican politicians so terrified of their radicalized base they refuse to refute even the most vile of Trump’s statements. I don’t want a politician who stands by their principles in the face of an overwhelming majority of Americans, I don’t want a politician who isn’t willing to compromise, I don’t want a politician that believes their own ideology trumps the best interests of American democracy, and I don’t want a politician that isn’t willing to evolve in the face of change.

It’s easy to dismiss someone as a flip-flopper, as lacking integrity, but it’s worth the extra time to make an effort to understand why someone might change their mind or evolve on an issue.