In one of the ironies of US politics, voters prefer for partisans to work together to find workable solutions to problems, but they punish candidates who express, or have shown, a willingness to compromise. For example, George H. W. Bush made a promise during the 1988 election, "read my lips, no new taxes." He later signed a bill that raised taxes. Not because he wanted to raise taxes. Instead, he thought that tax increases were an acceptable compromise to get other items in the bill that he wanted, namely, restrictions on spending. Did voters reward Bush for his bipartisanship? Just the opposite. In his 1992 race for reelection one of the biggest criticisms was that he didn't "keep his word."
More recently, both major party candidates have expressed a willingness to compromise on an issue in order to find a workable solution. In both cases, members of the press and the opposing campaign have suggested that the candidate was a "flip-flopper" or was not standing by their principles.
For McCain, the issue was the social security crisis. McCain is opposed to tax increases, but in a recent interview said that he would accept an increase in the cap on the payroll tax as part of a compromise bill. This means that, even though he is personally not in favor of increasing the cap, he would sign a bill that included this provision, if it contained other solutions to the social security crisis that he favors, such as personal accounts.
For Obama, the issue was the energy crisis. Obama is opposed to offshore drilling. His proposed solutions include developing more wind and solar power and conservation. But, he has said that he would accept more offshore drilling as part of a compromise bill. So if a bill that includes his proposed solutions also increases offshore drilling he would, apparently, sign it.
Our next president, even more that our current one, will be faced with both crises in energy and social security. If the two parties do not work together on these solutions, with each side accepting some compromise, nothing will get accomplished.
So, will voters be able to tell the difference between a candidate's principles and what they are willing to accept as part of a compromise? Or, will they force these candidates to take such hard-nosed positions that they will be too hogtied to accept a compromise bill, fearing the same backlash endured by the first President Bush?