As we move into the heart of the Presidential campaign season, we should keep one distinction in mind when evaluating the candidates. A leader will bring their own convictions into play and will try to make the American people understand their reasons for holding the policy positions they pronounce. The worst ones will yield to the polls on hot button issues even if that means a rather inelegant flip flop.
Yes, a leader can change his/her mind and “evolve” in certain areas. But when this occurs too frequently, as it did with Mitt Romney for example, people see the hypocrisy and doubt the messenger.
Conveying one’s political positions and, even more difficult, weaving them into an integrated political philosophy, is a job for the communications staff, but first the candidate must do some real thinking before foaming at the mouth. That’s why Hillary Clinton’s various “listening tours,” though handled a bit awkwardly, should be adopted by more candidates. Because creating a forward-looking philosophy for the next five or ten years represents a critical task both for the public and the country. After the President is elected, he or she will be bound by the promises made during the campaign, at least to some extent, so all this talk about appealing to the base versus the undecided voters is mainly cynical political science.
Candidates are at their most effective when they believe passionately in the positions they hold, instead of just getting elected.