Does Politics Have A Conscience?

by Patrick Appel

Awhile back Jonathan Bernstein wrote, while talking about Romney's constant policy reversals, that "flexibility of beliefs in pursuit of office is generally a good thing in a presidential candidate." Andrew Sprung observes that Bernstein's "approach can alternately seem extremely cynical, in that it assumes that politicians are motivated almost entirely by the drive to amass and keep power, and the the opposite of cynical, since it embraces the process and its outcomes so cheerfully." Sprung's main criticism:

[W]hat if the electorate and elected official are in perfect concert about a policy that be judged by some credible outside standard (or all but unanimously after the passage of time) to be wrong?  Was the George Wallace of the 1960s a "good" governor?  Were secessionist leaders ideal democratic statesmen?  Was Mitch McConnell right to oppose New Start if a) he thought the treaty a good one and b) he thought Republicans had a reasonable chance of preventing ratification?  Does political calculation have no bottom?