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Howard Gardner
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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Flip-flopping -- or not?

In response to the On Leadership question: On the issue of gays in the military: Under what conditions should leaders change their minds? How do you assess John McCain and Colin Powell's leadership on this issue?

Of course leaders can and should change their mind.... under certain circumstances. When they were initially wrong, when circumstances change, when they learn of new and better arguments. Anyone who refuses to change his or her mind under such circumstances is not a leader. Rather, a person with a commitment NOT to change his or her mind under any circumstances is a fundamentalist.

But in this cases where the mind is changed, the leader has an obligation to explain WHY the change, WHAT it means, and under what circumstances, yet another view might justifiably be embraced.

Back to 2004: John Kerry is accused of being a flip flopper -- he voted for the war before he voted against it. If John Kerry had explained his evolution in the following way, I think he would have become president:

"I love my country. I am a patriot. I want to support my government. That is why I went to Vietnam when so many of my classmates -- some now in high places -- found ways to stay home. But when I find out that the government has systematically distorted, even lied, about the reasons for the conflict, I can no longer support the killing of supposed enemies.

I voted initially for the possibility of military action against Iraq because I believed the government report that Saddam was creating weapons of mass destruction and aiming them toward us and our allies. This is sufficient reason to mobilize. But now it has become clear that we did NOT have such evidence. Moreover, in the absence of such evidence, we cannot and should not rush into conflict. Moreover, I am persuaded by the Powell doctrine, that we cannot undertake military action without clear objectives and an exit strategy. And that is the reason why I ultimately voted in the opposite way. I submit that anyone who is truly patriotic should have had the concerns that I had....I cannot support the opposite trigger-happy view of "my country, right or wrong."

It remains a mystery to me why Kerry did not offer an explanation along these lines--thereby letting the opposition define him in the least flattering way.

By Howard Gardner

 |  February 4, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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