With Mitt Romney being the Republican candidate in all but name now I did some thinking on how people perceive politicians who change their minds. Romney is extremely well known for changing his positions on various topics back and forth; years ago his platform could easily be described as middle of the road and he was very 'soft' on traditional Republican practices like being anti-abortion and anti-gay. Nowadays though he is a hardcore right wing bible thumper, presumably to appease the masses of fundamentalist Christians voting in the Republican elections. He has been accused of being a flip flopper and if anyone deserves that moniker I think he does... but why is that such a bad thing?
There are lots of reasons for a politician to change their stance on a topic and most of them are good ones. Perhaps they were convinced by other people that they need to act and think differently. This is usually going to be a good thing because while there are fanatics and selfish people who clog up any issue with bad information on both sides there are usually a substantial group of people who actually try to figure out the best answer and communicate that. If a politician is convinced to change their minds by experts or advisers I think they will end up doing the right thing more often than not.
A politician could also be changing their views based on polls or changes in public opinion. The public, by and large, is wrong about many things and ends up voting for circuses instead of sensible investment but politicians are actually tasked with implementing the will of the people. They are supposed to listen to the public and even though the public is going to be wrong a good chunk of the time I don't think that we can really fault politicians for changing their minds based on what their constituents want. The dramatic flip flop of political opinion that destroyed SOPA in the US just a short time ago illustrates a very positive example of this.
We often claim that we want politicians who have vision and who get things done regardless of public opinion or naysayers but I think that is a very risky sort of road. A monarchy is a fine system as long as the monarch really does have the best interests of the public at heart and is clever enough to come up with the right answers and a politician with vision is similar. If their goals are good and their methods are sensible then things go very well but when their goals are awful or ridiculous (for example, Rick Santorum's entire platform) then things go very badly indeed. A flip flopper for a leader isn't likely to bring about a Golden Age but it isn't likely to tear a country apart either.
Clearly everybody wants a politician who is a passionate visionary with goals and ideals exactly the same as the voter in question. We don't really know what we will get when we vote somebody in though so I generally figure I should hedge my bets and vote for somebody who is less likely to really screw things up even if they are less likely to do something brilliant. If I have a choice between a visionary and a flip flopper (while knowing nothing else about them) I will take the flip flopper. Too many of the visionaries out there envision a dystopia for me to be entirely comfortable putting one at the helm.