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Admitting I Was Wrong: 2016 Presidential Campaign Version


If you are of a certain age you will recognize this memorable moment from the television classic “Happy Days.”

In the episode “Tell It to the Marines,” Fonzie advises Ralph Malph, whose girlfriend has broken up with him, to join the Marines. Later, upon realizing he needs to retract that advice, he struggles with telling Ralph he was wrong. Watching him try to do so was hilarious in 1975 and is still so today.

Fonzie is not the only person who has trouble admitting when he’s wrong. We all do, in real life when we’ve made a factual error or caused offense to someone, and in politics when we realize the candidate we have been supporting turns out not to be the right one for the job.

I’ll Go First: I Was Wrong

I can still remember, almost eight years ago the day, when it was first suggested that then-Gov. Sarah Palin might be John McCain’s pick for vice president. In rapid succession, speculative whispers of a secretive Palin family departure from Alaska led to confirmed reports that she would be the VP nominee.

As excitement grew, those of us who had some reservations about McCain were encouraged by his choice of a conservative running mate. I did not know a lot about Palin at the time, but as I watched McCain’s introduction of her as his running mate, I was duly impressed. The lady could give a speech!

I have observed with disappointment as Palin has gone from a candidate I could feel enthusiasm for to someone whose primary interest seems to be her own celebrity.

Now, eight years later, the bloom is off the rose. I have observed with disappointment as Palin has gone from a candidate I could feel enthusiasm for to someone whose primary interest seems to be her own celebrity. There is no point in cataloging all the ways Palin has proven herself less than worthy of the next-to-the-highest office in the land. I will just state here, for the record, that I was wrong about her, and in retrospect am gratefully relieved she never acquired the position of being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

I was also, I am sad to say, wrong about Carly Fiorina. Like Palin, she can give a great speech. There is still much that I respect about her. But my initial excitement about her candidacy has waned. I found her “Me, too” attack on Ted Cruz’s eligibility to run for president disheartening.

As someone who previously defended her against the charge of gender politics, I was also dismayed when she pulled out the old Margaret Thatcher line that if you want something talked about you should ask a man, but if you want something done you should ask a woman.

It may have been a joke. But for someone who has had to spend a lot of time deflecting accusations of playing the gender card, and who, if she were to get the nomination, would find herself running against another woman, it was an unwise one. As a woman myself, one who could keep you up all night with stories about the men I admire for the great things they have done, it left me wincing. I know some candidates get a lot of mileage out of insulting others; I prefer those who don’t.

It’s Good to Change Your Mind Given New Information

Americans sometimes complain about the length of our political campaigns. For those who pay attention to such things, the presidential campaign season, especially, seems to take over the news and our lives for a miserable and interminable period of time. But the benefit to such an approach is the opportunity it gives us to learn, really learn, about both the candidates and the issues. We may initially like one candidate only to find out something about his or her character, past, or views that ends up giving us pause.

We may initially like one candidate only to find out something about his or her character, past, or views that ends up giving us pause.

To admit it when it happens is not to out ourselves as stupid or weak. It is, instead, to do the opposite: it reflects our willingness to study and learn, to be open to new information, and to think and lead rather than follow. It highlights putting intellectual honesty and integrity above being right from the very start.

That brings us to today. The point of this piece is not to convince you one way or the other about any one candidate. As of this writing, I am still unsure myself of whom I am going to vote for in the primary. I have considered a number of candidates along the way. Early on, I had high hopes for Rick Perry. He turned out to be a disappointment. (See? I can say it. I was wrong about him.) I already mentioned Fiorina. I have even, believe it or not, considered Donald Trump. (A couple of pieces I have written for this site might suggest otherwise.)

No, the point of this piece is not to convince you. The point is to encourage you. If you were once smitten but are now beginning to have questions about the object of your affection, the thing to do is not jump unthinking into bed or run off for a Vegas wedding, but to listen to your heart and gut. Don’t stifle the doubts. Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to follow the rabbit trail and see where it leads. Don’t be afraid, if it leads to a dead end, to acknowledge you made a wrong turn and double back and try a different path.

Being Wrong Is Part of Growing

One of the most difficult things in life to do, particularly if you have invested considerably in a person or a cause, is to admit that your faith and your efforts were misplaced. It can make you feel as though all that time and energy was wasted. The thing is, it wasn’t wasted. It was part of the process that got you to where you are now.

Moreover, if you do it, you won’t be alone. You will join the likes of Peggy Joseph, who in 2008 was certain a man named Barack Hussein Obama was going to provide the answers to all her problems.

Here’s Joseph in 2014.

Peggy had the self-respect, not to mention the courage, to admit she was wrong. You can do it, too, if necessary, and it doesn’t even have to be on national television. Maybe you’ll have to do some ‘splainin’ on Facebook. If so, you’ll survive. I promise. And you might just be stronger for it.