Barack Obama comes off as the most intelligent, reasonable candidate left. But I think a lot of this comes via a lack of track record. His stint at the Harvard review, he didn't pen one article, nor while on the faculty at U Chicago. He didn't propose any big legislation as a state senator in Illinois, or in the US senate. At least McCain has McCain-Feingold, and Hillary has health care, and their failures in these areas are learning experiences that will make them better candidates. I'll take someone who has failed in a sincere effort that was reasonable at the time, over someone with zero experience any time, because the best attribute of leader of something with a not-obvious objective function is modest ambition, and nothing teaches modesty better than failure in previous panaceas.
The problem with guys who merely talk reasonably, but have no record of achievement, is we have a tendency to infer an Olympian reasonableness and moderation to their views when they are conventionally successful. Yet many of these guys are merely afraid of looking stupid, so say little about anything controversial and relevant to their career. For example, I know several very successful people who have mastered the art of saying very little about actual business tactics. And if they find themselves in a group that is successful for reasons unrelated to their action (eg, a portfolio manager for telecom in the 1990s), most people assume they are very bright. You really have to have an insider's knowledge to know this, so you get this unalloyed praise out of ignorance of outsiders deferring to success, and self-interested flattery by ambitious insiders eager to form coalitions.
Most people prefer not to look stupid, and it is easier to say nothing than take a risky view. Yet there are so many of these people, the fact that most successful executives in large organizations adopt this strategy does not mean it is optimal, because there are many such people mired in middle layers because their groups were not winners of accidental success in one's field, like people lucky to be in telecoms in the the 1990s. I would not advocate this strategy to someone young and smart, in spite of the fact that most successful politicians and businessmen adopt it, because those successful people are more like lottery winners than self-made men.
The average political leader is really a meek person intellectually, taking well-worn, prosaic positions, and then heaping immoderately large praise on their unassailable objectives (read Obama quotes here, and note none of them advocate anything anyone would be against). Forcefully articulating big ideas is helpful to the policy wonks who need to use these to rationalize their petty objectives. Really thoughtful policy tends to come from academics or journalists who first test them in the field, and so only after several decades of success, does one justify an idea based on Milton Friedman, who was for many years a lonely voice.
But if you have no good novel ideas, and really no good opinion on current ideas, the following approach is recommended for moving up the corporate ladder. First, have strong opinions about things like sports and movies, and also have keen grasp of conspicuous historical events in your field (Obama took a bold pro-Bear position prior to last year's super bowl). So, in finance, if you read an insider's account of the dot-com bubble, the S&L crisis, or the Long Term Capital Management, you will appear to have a good, detailed knowledge. Never champion a new idea, or take a view on a current, controversial plan. You will only look foolish. Lastly, get a haircut every 2 weeks, and wear good clothes, paying special importance to shoes. Now, when people are looking for a new head of corporate development, you are perfect, because you have never made enemies, and you seem like a reasonable guy. People won't remember that you never have opinions on novel stuff, because their memory will be dominated by your strong opinions on irrelevancies, and your hindsight knowledge about the internet bubble shows a courageous and savvy insider's view (this is the key subtlety to the empty suit strategy, you need some camouflage). Then, inherit a bunch of projects, and manage them by merely listening quietly to your employees bitch about each other, by saying, 'don't worry, I'll take care of it', which means, 'I'll call them into a meeting and listen to them bitch about you'.
Obama seems like a smart guy, but his voting record suggests he merely takes the stereotypical, unthinking, leftish position on everything. The fact that he will rationalize this well is not a good thing.