We seem to have a presidential race with no core convictions.
President Obama says his thinking has “evolved” to the point where he now holds the pro-gay marriage position that he first espoused 16 years ago. He can talk that way because a friendly press lets him. When Mitt Romney changes positions on something – oh, the individual mandate for health insurance, say – it’s called a flip-flop.
But whatever term is used to describe the condition, it seems we will have a presidential contest between two candidates who have no firm, unshakable set of convictions, and isn’t that just awful?
Well, perhaps, but it’s not exactly a brand-new problem, is it? In fact, it might be argued that we have never really known what any president or presidential candidate believed deep down about anything. There’s a little narcissism in any politician, and it’s not possible to reach the presidential candidate level without a lot of it. They need our votes the way standup comics need our laughter – being “adored” with that approval is the only thing that validates their existence.
To get those votes, they tend to say what we want to hear. They are masters of measuring the zeitgeist and knowing when a critical mass of people have reached a certain point on given issues.
And they have to run where they are. When he was in Chicago, Obama could afford to have an expansive, live-and-let-live attitude about gay marriage. When he was trying to appeal to the whole country, he didn’t think he could. Now that opinion polls show approval of gay marriage gaining, he probably thinks he can again.
And if some of Romney’s actions as governor seem not as conservative as he wants to sound today, let’s not forget it was Massachusetts. The question isn’t how liberally he governed it, but how much more liberally a different politician would have been. (Of course, there would also be a question about why he wanted to be governor of such a liberal state, but that’s another editorial.)
The attention paid to our whims and developing attitudes isn’t all bad. It usually means a president will not get too far ahead of us and shock us with actions we’re not ready for yet. The most unsettling thing about Obama’s first three years, in fact, is how hard he has pushed a radical progressive agenda on a population that is, on most days, center-right.
In the end, the best we can do is to judge candidates not by what they say or promise, but by the core values they live by, insofar as we can determine them