There is a form of â€˜leadershipâ€™ in which a candidate (or elected official) attains a broad approval by catering to the public whim, often little more that a consensus of ignorance. Demagoguery is an effective tool for attaining office and power. There is a downside to gaining the world at the expense of your soul.
There is another style of leadership that is principled but ineffective in the short run. This involves a boldness and taking actions (or proposing actions) that go against current public opinion. Candidates and incumbents who take such positions tend to lose elections.
The third course demand great skills in persuasiveness and communication. This allows public opinion tome gradually modified.
Barry Goldwater employed the second mode and LBJ the first. Dishonesty produced a landslide victory for LBJ but honesty was never a quality associated with the person. His name is seldom invoked in any positive context while Goldwater is held in far greater esteem.
The intra-party differences between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill seem to have followed a similar pattern but dire circumstances proved Churchill right and he triumphed in the court of public opinion in spite of post-victory humiliation.
The third mode of leadership proved effective for FDR in the area of foreign policy. He catered to the isolationist until the Folly of Munich began to be understood. He cleverly nudged public opinion towards an internationalism that seemed to have died with the end of the Wilson Administration.
There was an absence of leadership demonstrated during the Carter Administration, one that had been put in control by a narrow victory in an election that was more a repudiation of Nixon (who was not on the ballot) than an approval of the amorphous change associated with the Democrat.
Reagan followed with style of leadership akin to that of FDR. It worked and allowed the policy of containment begun by Truman to brought to fruition.
In the current race, the adulation associated with Obama provides an example of the first style of what passes for leadership and has an echo of Jimmy Carter. It is also a cult-of-personality candidacy in which the perceived charm of the candidate means more than the meager (but telling) record of past accomplishments and concrete goals. McCain needs to demonstrate an ability to communicate and persuade.
A lot hangs in the balance.