There's a scene in the movie "Pretty Woman" where the kindhearted hooker played by Julia Roberts asks her client, portrayed by Richard Gere: "Who do you want me to be?" Regardless of who she might really be, she realizes that it's far less attractive than a tabula rasa onto which her client can project his own desires, and around which she can then build a tailor-made palatable persona. It's essentially the same principle that dating-and-mating books recommend adopting when suggesting that women retain an air of mystery at the outset of a relationship and be the first to hang up in phone conversations with a man. The idea underpinning these contortions is that whoever you truly are is less attractive than whatever someone can project onto you, so you should let them continue to dream about who and what you might be for as long as possible so you can rope them in.
It's a strategy sometimes seen in politics, as well -- and in the case of the upcoming French elections set for a first round of voting this weekend, it may well be the winning strategy that determines the country's next president.
If Socialist Francois Hollande beats incumbent center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy, as the polls predict, it could largely be attributed to Hollande's "flexibility." For example, Hollande has been both for and against withdrawing France from NATO, and has now, for the time being, settled on withdrawing France from NATO in Afghanistan -- whatever that means. No one quite knows if he'd be in or out, but then again no one seems to care much, and may, in fact, prefer his approach and consider it more thoughtful and therefore less threatening.
During the 2004 U.S. presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, flip-flopping and nuance were Kerry's downfall. It's accepted wisdom in politics -- particularly in the Anglosphere -- that people generally like strong, decisive leaders with clear, unwavering positions. But there appears to be a certain appeal among voters for someone who can successfully parlay indecisiveness into an image of thoughtfulness and openness. Strength and decisiveness can be spun and attacked as rigid demagoguery, while ambivalence translates into a capacity for critical thought -- which may prove to be an increasingly attractive selling point in an era rife with complex national and global problems to which solutions have yet to be found.