Friday, February 1, 2008

Think about your candidate

Having been watching more TV news of the caucuses and primaries than any sane person should, I am getting some trepidation. If our founding fathers were right, that a democracy requires an educated and informed electorate, we may be in for some real trouble.

Three man-in-the-street TV interviews make my case. A young, well-dressed man supports Obama because he is "fresh." Fresh? What are we doing here, buying fish? A cute blond touts Romney because he "looks presidential." A rather heavy-set, middle-aged woman declared her preference for Hillary because of her experience being in the White House for eight years—to which an off-camera commentator quipped, "So was the pastry chef."

The point is that none of these folks had thought through any rational criteria upon which to judge the candidates. The hopefuls are presenting themselves to us for the single most important position in the world today. They are on a job interview and we are the employer. We had better take our job seriously. I suspect our men-in-the-street would give greater thought to interviewing a babysitter than they displayed to a national audience.

So, what are rational criteria for judging candidates for the presidency (or any elected official, for that matter)? I submit to you that they should include three fundamental elements whatever your political persuasion: character; proven competence, that is, a demonstrated ability to accomplish difficult goals; and compatibility with your political philosophy.

How many elected officials have we seen over recent years that have or are now doing time for criminal exploitation of their public power? How many times have we tucked away doubts about a candidate's character and voted for them anyway because they agreed with us on an important issue. Recall the expression, "He may be a crook, but he's my crook." Electing most public officials without character can damage our society significantly. Electing a president without character can be catastrophic.

Of course, we all want competence in a candidate for the most influential office in the wor1d. But, what evidence do we demand to judge that competence? Are the claimed accomplishments of the scale and magnitude required of the presidency? Are they real or just more malarkey? Do we examine a candidate's history for ourselves to see if there is a demonstrated ability to accomplish difficult goals or blindly accept the advice of pundits? Did the people of New Orleans elect a mayor who had demonstrated his ability to do the job? Or, like our men-in-the-street, did they mindlessly pull the lever?

When considering whether or not a candidate shares your political philosophy, two thoughts come to mind. First, are the candidate's stated positions really his or hers, or, are they merely polling results opportunistically adopted for the moment? Second, since all of a candidate's positions rarely correspond to yours, you must rank them in relative importance. This is a tough task that requires real thought. Is it worth the bother?

If we are not educated and informed, we'll get what we deserve.

Bill Watkins

Sun Valley

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