Maybe Jake can start a trend

A big attaboy to Jake Knotts for changing his mind:

State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, once an outspoken opponent of strong state highway-safety laws, Wednesday made a stunning announcement:

He was wrong to oppose a tougher seat belt law in 2004 and 2005. And this year, Knotts said, he will push a measure to ban both cell phone texting and use of hand-held cell phones by motorists.

“I was wrong,” Knotts said during a Senate subcommittee meeting, saying he now is convinced the 2005 law that requires all South Carolinians to wear seat belts, which he fought so hard against, is saving lives.

And Knotts – known for his libertarian, anti-regulation views – said Wednesday he does not want to be wrong on cell phone use by motorists, calling it a deadly distraction…

Note that I praised Jake just now “for changing his mind,” not just for supporting this particular bill. I think the bill itself sounds fine, although I wish the local news media would take a little of the time they’re spending on this simplistic, easy-to-understand issue (which increasingly these days is the only kind of story that the strapped, overworked media go after) and devote it to something like the state budget crisis, or something I don’t understand.

That aside, though, when somebody as stiff-necked as Jake changes his mind about something, particularly in a positive direction, it’s an occasion for celebration. I don’t know what precipitated this — maybe his enmity toward the governor has caused him to see the problems with his own instinctive libertarianism — but I’d really like to see more lawmakers develop the habit?

Why? Because the deliberative process that representative democracy depends upon assumes that people can change their minds. That representatives, rather than being mindless automatons punching whichever button they promised to press when they ran for office, over and over, will actually engage an issue, spending the time on it that we who sent them don’t have to spend, and learn and grow and yes, sometimes change their minds. Otherwise, what’s the point of a debate?

Of course, actual “debate” is a bit of an anachronistic concept in our hyperpartisan modern politics. Lawmakers — especially on the national level — don’t debate; they posture. They issue pronouncements meant not for their fellows in the chamber (who are as often as not absent) but for YouTube. The purpose is to cheer for their team or blast the other team, and use the speech as a fund-raising device.

Having actual debates, and lawmakers willing to be swayed if the debate is good enough, would be the salvation of our system of government. So when I see a guy like Jake willing to change his mind, I have hope…

12 thoughts on “Maybe Jake can start a trend

  1. Doug Ross

    I’m trying to recall a time where you changed your mind on this blog. Do you have an example?

    Personally, I probably started as more liberal when I was in my twenties and became more of a libertarian as I have “experienced” government as a taxpayer and parent of three kids in public schools.

    One area I have definitely changed my mind on has been on gay marriage. In the past, I probably was more against it. Now, having worked with gays in long term committed relationships, it seems like they should have the same rights as all straight couples do. There are way too many rules in our society as it is. The fewer, the better in my view.

  2. Doug Ross

    How about a policy, not a person? I changed my mind about Sanford but that didn’t change my view of the ideas he proposed for government.

    Take “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”… Colin Powell came around on that one. That was a good thing that he changed his mind, right?

  3. Brad Warthen

    I’m in transition on that one — in other words, I’m less certain about my position than I was, and I’m open to hearing more arguments, particularly from those (such as Adm. Mullen and Sec. Gates) with the best interests of the service in mind.

    Any other questions?

  4. bud

    I’ve changed my mind on a few things in recent years. First, I went from indifferent on the DADT to a strong advocate for repeal.

    Second, I’ve moved away from my Libertarian inclinations a bit. At least in some areas. Given the atrocities of ENRON, Exxon and the banks it seems prudent for government to take an active role in economic matters. On personal decisions like abortion, pot smoking and video poker I remain a very strong proponent of the Libertarian point of view.

    Perhaps where I’ve changed the most (and this was before Brad’s blog came alone) was the Iraq war. The Bush administration made a convincing case that Iraq was a threat. I still had concerns about using our military and even in the beginning I leaned against a military invasion. Yet when the time came to go in I supported the effort. Then as it became clear the administration was dishonest in portraying the threat and as our ham-handed tactics became counter-productive I became a strident, unambiguous opponent to what is one of the most catostrophic military disasters in American history. I feel ashamed to have ever been on the fence regarding this shameful episode.

  5. bud

    I came to admire Obama more as the campaign wore on. I’m not sure that I switched entirely until it was obvious that Obama was going to win. But I did lean more toward Obama as the campaign wore on.

    I’m not sure that Hillary wouldn’t have been better in the healthcare debate having been through it once before. That was one issue where I felt she was stronger. I guess we’ll never know.

  6. Brad Warthen

    You know what my biggest, most overarching change of mind has been, over the years? It’s the one that underlies this post, and a lot of other things I write: It’s my shift, over time, from small-d democrat to small-r republican.

    Not that I was ever an overt advocate of the “if the people will lead, the leaders will follow” school of thought — after all, I’ve spent practically my whole adult life as a manager, which affects my thinking. (Although I was generally a collegial, leader-as-servant kind of manager.)

    But there was a time (in my newsroom days) when I would commission a poll, asking the average voter what the legislative agenda should be, and base our “setting the agenda” package at the start of the legislative session each year on that, regardless of what the lawmakers and “experts” thought.

    But over time — and particularly after I started studying and thinking a lot harder and more deeply about issues as an opinion writer (news people by definition skim the surface, deliberately not thinking about the kinds of things that an opinion writer considers) — I came to value what people who deal with issues over time know that the average person does not. And I came to believe that it is essential to the job of an elected representative in a republic to study and listen until he knows a great deal more about an issue than he did when elected (spending the time that voters don’t have, acting as their thinking delegate, not an automaton), and then make his decision as to how to vote on the basis of that knowledge.

    In other words, I came to appreciate more fully why our Framers considered a republic superior to a pure democracy.

    And I even began to doubt the wisdom of having let the people directly elect U.S. senators (just to bring up an issue likely to set people off, because we haven’t had a good argument today).

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    Doug–I’m heartened to read your paragraph on gay marriage. You’re a good guy!

    I grew up Republican in Aiken–we used to sing a song the lyrics of which were “George McGovern is a commie plot.” My math teacher was a really smart, cool lady and she was very liberal–from DC. She started to make more sense than the knee jerk engineer-types around me. I went to USC and studied economics under Randy Martin, who just made a ton of sense, and US History under John Scott Wilson (RIP). We read monographs on the Labor movement, late nineteenth and early twentieth century capitalism and so on. Eye-openers. Monographs that were really well-footnoted and contained copious excerpts from contemporaneous documents.

    Then I went to England to study for a year, and learned about Marxism–not Soviet-ism or Maoism, but the political philosophy of Karl Marx. “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.” Struck me as awfully close to the Loaves and Fishes story.

    Then I went to Emory Law School, proudly in the throes of University of Chicago style Posnerism. The market knows all. Leveraged buyouts free up underutilized assets…

    and then I actually did leveraged buyouts–which involved raiding pension funds to benefit investment bankers. Shutting down viable companies after sucking the capital out of them. Nice.

    Flash forward to 2008 and Posner has even backed off on his theories of the perfection of capitalism and the free market….

  8. Doug Ross

    Hey, Brad, it looks like John McCain got your message about being open to change.

    He doesn’t appear to believe that global warming is real any more.

    Not that it has anything to do with him running for re-election and needing to appear that he’s with the whole Hannity gang since he may have a tough fight in the primary against ultra-right J.D. Hayworth. Not John McCain… he wouldn’t do something so politically crass, would he? You betcha!

  9. Burl Burlingame

    Sometimes one changes without realizing it, simply by being recast. Brad, you probably still believe you’re a semi-conservative moderate. But, by holding on to those positions, you’ve now become a radical socialist with a secret agenda to destroy the real America.

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, Burl, especially down here.

    John McCain is losing his credibility over and over again these days. I’m disappointed in him. ‘twould be better for him to hold his guns, be the voice of center-right reason, and risk losing his seat, than to sell his soul to the Teabaggers….surely he doesn’t need the money?

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