This basically means appealing to the guy who is vaguely uncomfortable with sharing a locker room with a gay man but really thinks that the war is no good and that the Trickle Down Theory of Economics was a stupid idea; and so that means highlighting an economic plan that appeals to that particular voter rather than highlighting the "Gay Marriage For Everyone" idea. And it isn't exactly idealistic, but it is politics and the political process. It is more about meeting people in the center and resolving differences through mediation and compromise than it about distinct and full victories. That is why a Republican from Connecticut is normally about as liberal as a Democrat from Texas. The last two candidates immediately springing to mind who didn't live in the center and who didn't forego their own political ideals in order to appeal to the masses were Adlai Stevenson on the left and Barry (AuH2O) Goldwater on the right. These two had one thing in common and it is that they lost and lost big. Also, both had a keen sense of humor.
And this is the reason most radical, lasting change occurs through forces outside of the elected political spectrum. It is why groups like NARAL and NAACP and -God help me- the NRA are important, because they don't have to compromise their values and they are able to stress why it is deeply important politicians fight hard for women and minorities and second amendment rights. Ralph Nader did real good when he was a safety advocate, because he wasn't beholden to voters and was able to distinctly highlight his issue of choice without fear of political backlash; he didn't have to worry about not going whole hog because his next bill may get bogged down in committee as retribution. His job was to be a conscience and he was a good one because he wouldn't back down. This is also, ironically, why he makes a good third party candidate -a man who can highlight issues that should be discussed on the national scale but that the two parties won't bring up out of fear of rocking the boat and losing votes.
I don't envy politicians on the national circuit. They have to both appear genuine and appeal to the vastest population they can. What ends up happening is a lot of flip-flopping, a lot of leaning toward the center. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have rested their laurels on the idea that they represent a new, integrity-driven candidate. Both have garnered fans due to the idea that neither one is going to play the traditional political games. That was part of Obama's appeal over Clinton during the primary season; Clinton was Old DNC, the Establishment with a capital "E". She was too crooked to really fight for what matters, to shine the light in the dark places. And lo and behold, Obama is now pretty much the same.
Obama has made some statements about abortion rights that are, in a word, demeaning to women. He has made some overtures about keeping faith-based initiatives, and he voted for FISA, all as a way of connecting to more voters. John McCain? Well 'The Maverick' has backtracked on his no-offshore-drilling policy, and is trying to portray himself as a "friend to women" even though he voted against having birth control covered by health insurance (Viagra is, by the way) and has told a "lovely" joke about gorilla rape many times over the years. There are other examples on both sides of flip flopping, but I'm too cynical/lazy to dig them up because this, my friends, is politics. It is the worst system in the world with which to pick a leader, until we compare it to all the others.
And so, the mantra remains the same: "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss".