Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Who chooses?

One thought on your quite provocative list: Some of those are legitimate political flip-flops (i.e. steel tariffs). However, most of them are the result of actually becoming president.
For instance, on nation-building: As President, Bush learned that you can't just ignore what happens in other countries and expect everything to turn out fine (Sept. 11 was a rather drastic lesson in that piece of wisdom for all of us). This isolationist tendency of non-governmental conservatives is quite normal, but it doesn't hold up when one is actually in government. Israel-Palestine is another example of this.

But I think it brings up a more important point. (Two, actually, the the second is merely provocative) Let's assume that "promises" and stances of politicians before they get elected are merely pre-dispositions; subject to change when confronted with the actual realities of the situation. For example, in 1935 a focus on domestic policy to deal with the Great Depression was a wise course of action, and would have been an excellent campaign theme in the presidential elections of 1936, and maybe even 1940. However, by 1942 it would have sounded stupid. However, such a statement might indicate a predisposition to focus on domestic issues where possible, and not get involved in European affairs even as things devolved and the Nazi Party rose to power.

So, this means presidential campaign themes and policy statements are really just candidates telling us their predispositions. How then are we to judge candidates? There must be some set of criteria outside policy goals we can rely on. Credentials? of what kind? Experience? doing what? Is 2 terms of executive experience more relevant than 4 in the legislature? Do we prefer military experience? Does it matter how long ago?

I actually ask this as an open-ended question, because I have no idea what the correct answer is. Do we care about morality? How about intelligence? Education? are those the same things? What if the candidate is a genius, with a law degree and political science PhD, but he beats his kids? Or a moron who is universally loved?

Obviously, those are extreme examples. But they are symbolic of an ongoing debate in this country. Say I vote against Clinton because I think the man has no moral character (i.e. cheats on his wife, is a liar, etc.) or was a crappy lawyer, even though he is brilliant. Is that a bad vote? Or I vote for Clinton in '92 because even though Bush 41 has more experience, excellent educational credentials and military experience, I think Clinton has a sunnier disposition and he reminds me a bit of Kennedy? Or because he makes policy promises I know he can't keep? Or I vote for Bush in 2000 instead of Gore because Gore is boring?

The larger question is: How should we judge our candidates, if no politician ever keeps his promises?

The second question is, if we can't agree on some set of standards, and some people vote for whoever looks better in person (a la Nixon-Kennedy in '60) or they've seen them in a movie (Reagen '80), should we have stricter voting requirements? Or move towards a Platonic system of Philosopher-Kings?


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