In Praise Of Wishy-Washiness

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One day last week, the headline of the Los Angeles Times read, "Bush Refuses To Be Swayed By Findings." At first glance, I wasn't sure what the headline referred to. Were they talking about weapons of mass destruction? Global warming? Evolution? It turned out they were referring to President Bush not embracing the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

I wasn't surprised, even though the President asked for this group's opinion and respects many of its members. It's not the first time he has refused "to be swayed by findings." President Bush is definitely not wishy-washy. He's not a "You know, you're right and I was wrong" kind of guy. Some criticize him for this aspect of his personality, but without it, I doubt that he would have been elected president.

In recent years, I've learned that the worst thing people in public life can be is wishy-washy. Apparently in politics, getting caught changing your mind is worse than getting caught stealing money from a charity while committing adultery. With a cousin. On Christmas. In the family room.

In the last presidential election, John Kerry was blasted for being wishy-washy. Other politicians — and former military experts — initially supported the president and the war on Iraq, but changed their minds after they learned more of the facts. At times, these people have been criticized for being wishy-washy instead of congratulated for being open, and having the courage to admit they were wrong.

Since being wishy-washy is one of my most defining characteristics, I could never go into politics. I'm just not someone who always thinks I definitely know the right answer. And I think most people are like me in this respect. But politicians are a different breed from the rest of us. Their DNA must be different from ours. They're like those people who have that recessive gene that makes them snort when they laugh.

I can't categorically say that if I eat Italian food tonight instead of Chinese, I'll have a better dinner. I can't say that people should never respond with force, and I can't say that they always should. I can't tell you definitely at what age all children should be able to read or all adults should stop wearing shorts in public. But politicians somehow feel certain about all these things.

I think about things way too much to be a politician. I question my decisions. "Maybe I made a mistake" is a pretty frequent thought of mine. It's right up there with, "I hope I didn't hurt anybody's feelings." Politicians aren't introspective like that. They make a decision, and move on. I worry about things, and sometimes you can tell I've been worrying just by looking at my face. Politicians aren't supposed to look worried, no matter what. If they accidentally walked into the public restroom of the opposite gender, they'd try to convince everyone else in there that they were in the wrong place.

I apologize far too often to be a politician. If you and I were to accidentally bump carts in the grocery store, I'd probably apologize — even if it were technically your fault. That's not the attitude of a successful politician. He'd keep standing there with his cart, blocking the aisle for "as long as it takes to be successful." I just want to finish shopping and get out of the store. (If that makes me guilty of "cutting and running," so be it.)

I recognize that a person who gets paralyzed with indecision would not make a great leader. But I'm not so sure that we should always be voting for the "decisive" people who refuse to change their minds and who have trouble admitting their mistakes.

Since most of us apologize, change our minds, and worry, shouldn't those who represent us do those same things? Acting human like this isn't considered a bad thing outside of politics. So, why shouldn't we want our political leaders to have the same characteristics that we like in our loved ones, our friends, and in ourselves?

We've tried it the other way for so long. So to paraphrase the Beatles, all I am saying is, give wishy-washiness a chance.



Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, many of them were in hardcover — which is not to say he doesn't like paperbacks. Or magazines.

By Lloyd Garver
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