We like to mock Mitt Romney for changing his positions, Bush for claiming he could look into Putin's 'soul', and John McCain for completely changing his political skin to garner support from the fundamentalist and establishment types. But I think the delusion goes both ways.
Let's do a thought experiment. Let's say I were to put a generic candidate forward, and ask whether Democrats should choose him or her as our nominee. This person rejected the Iraq war at the time of the war authorization vote and has a very liberal voting record as a Senator, though, like much of the caucus, has done little of substance to lead us out of the war. He has a good if unremarkable career as a Senator, and is loved by Democrats all over the country for inspiring rhetoric.
Since declaring for President, this person has called Social Security a 'crisis', attacked trial lawyers, associated unapologetically with vicious homophobes, portrayed Gore and Kerry as excessively polarizing losers, boasted as his central achievement an irrelevant ethics bill, ran against the DC establishment while taking huge amounts of cash from DC, undermined Ned Lamont in 2006, criticized NAFTA while voting for a NAFTA-style trade agreement, compiled opposition research on the most effective liberal pundit in the country, refused to promise that American troops would be out of Iraq by 2013, and endorsed the central plank of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy doctrine, the war on terror.
How would you react? You could concoct a 'theory of change' and argue that all of this is just deceptive, and the candidate is worth supporting anyway. You could make arguments that this person can change the electoral map, with no evidence, and support him for that reason. Or you could decide that this person means what he says and is running a campaign promising the country premised on conservative ideas such as the war on terror, maintaining an American presence in Iraq, and 'fixing' Social Security.
Any and all paths are open to you. For my money, I'm constantly drawn back to Steve Clemons and his framework in describing John McCain.
But this person who knows McCain better than most made the point that sometimes the "person" that the candidate is just doesn't matter all that much -- at some point, the candidate becomes a franchise of so many interests and perspectives, sometimes in internal conflict with one another, that what the candidate really thinks or feels becomes less important.
That is why I spend a lot of time looking at advisers, funders, and other interests that surround these candidates. Each is somewhat of a free trade zone unto himself or herself for political interests vying to steer him or her this way or that.
It's lousy that this is the case -- but it is, and we need to be engaged as American citizens in trying to compel the candidates one direction or another -- and to punish or reward based on the positions that they are occasionally brave enough to articulate.
If you believe, as I do, that Bush's arguments about Putin were laughable, that McCain is a hypocrite willing to do anything to get elected, that Romney is an inauthentic unprincipled cartoonish villain who doesn't even have a strong commitment to evil, then you are able to weigh and consider evidence about political figures in the Republican Party.
We like to think we live in the reality-based community. And if you know all of these things, and you still support Obama, you have to concede that you are supporting a conservative candidate for President. And that's fine. But just go into this with clear eyes.