“How would each candidate govern if she or he was elected.”? That is the threshold and perhaps the only important question that any of us should ask throughout the process of selecting the next President of the United States or for that matter any elected or appointed official. That this question overshadows any other question was illustrated by events described on the nightly news since my last column.
Samantha Power, a highly respected and very intelligent academic thinker, and writer, obviously used to expressing herself openly and not used to having her thoughts or words filtered through an politically correct campaign screening process, “shocked” the Clinton Campaign if not the electorate, by remarking that Senator Obama, if elected, would be guided by events on the ground as opposed to campaign promises in formulating a strategy and a plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. Well, let’s hope so! To suggest that he would not or even more absurdly that he should not do so is to proffer that if a candidate is elected President that he or she should ignore reality at a potential serious cost to the national security of The United States in order to prove his fidelity to campaign promises made in a different role at a different time and at a different place. This is a ridiculous position to take even if the Obama Campaign indisputably set itself up for such silly criticism by sounding as its basic theme that “Words matter and are important.”
Nevertheless it is sad commentary that this ridiculous exchange took place. Furthermore it is insulting to the targeted portion of the electorate that it was intended to influence that both campaigns and the media, which published it without commenting or explaining how silly it was, thought that this exchange on this non-issue was worthy of the voters’ attention and even more insulting that the campaign and the media didn’t give the targeted voters credit for having the intelligence to see through the political charade parading before them. It was “political theater” at its worst.
The formulation and implementation of public policy, which is the act of governance is no doubt at times staged for political purposes as are campaigns. But the staging should not drive the policy or its implementation. The development of public policy and its implementation should be fact-based and the analysis of those facts should be the product of a free and open, albeit confidential discussion by the official charged with making the decision with as I have said, “the right people in the room”, i.e. “wise women and men who have the integrity and strength to speak the truth to power and who are willing to confront their own and their leader’s mistakes as well as counsel the leader whom are advising to avoid repeating them.”
The leader, himself or herself, must listen to these advisors while at the same time, as Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard Political Science Professor, Contributing Writer for The New York Times, now a Member of Canada’s Parliament and Deputy Leader of Canada’s Liberal Party points out, knowing which one(s) to trust, which one(s) to believe and which one(s) to ignore on certain issues as well as the general formulation of policy. Who they are should change over time and depending on the issue or policy under consideration. New ideas and different advisors should be welcomed and in no way limited except by the tests of truth, time, and applicability to reality.
Wise political leaders will not confuse the world as it is with the world as they or their handlers or advisors might wish it to be. They also will not assume their worldview is presumptively correct and therefore should not be questioned. Nor will they, as Syndicated Columnist, Ruth Marcus has pointed out, disregard the warnings of the now disgraced former Governor of New York and as it turns out prescient political philosopher, Elliot Spitzer, who speaking last August on the topic of “The Need for both Passion and Humanity in Politics” citing the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as his authority remarked ironically, “driven by hubris, we become blind to our own fallibility and make terrible mistakes.”
Which one of the three remaining candidates is most likely, based on what we know about them to this date, to assemble the “right group” of advisors and policy-makers as well as know who to listen to on what and when? Which ones do we think recognize that their personal and political judgment is not infallible while at the same time maintain enough confidence in their own instincts and judgment to listen to truth when it is spoken to their power and not feel threatened by it? Which one is most likely to enter the office with both the skills and the mindset to know the difference between a good and bad compromise as well as recognize that as Michael Ignatieff observes, “Good judgment in politics is messy — It means imperfect compromises that always leave someone unhappy – often yourself.” Which one these candidates best understands that to be responsible to those who pay the price of his or her decisions means recognizing “that in politics bad ideas can cost or ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious human and fiscal resources. Finally which candidates best comprehend all of our basic common and imperfect humanity and that public policy cannot change it. I’ll try to answer these questions in my next few columns.