Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Good God Almighty That's the Poor Man's Friend:" An Algorithm for Selecting a Political Candidate

The 2016 Presidential campaign has started. Aspirants are embarking from the lowlands of partisan Congressional politics towards the first gentle slopes of Presidential primary states, attracting money supporters, and mercenary loyalties as they go. 

By the time they reach the top of the first hill, they will be in the thrall of financial supporters, political consultants, campaign managers, pollsters, and campaign organizations.  What they say will be dictated by internal polling and political expediency; constrained by political caution. By the time the battered survivors will arrive to contest the primary in my state (California, June 7, 2016) we will be left guessing what they really mean. We will be asked to project our hopes and fears into slogans like "Peace, Progress, and Prosperity,” "I want to be your champion," "A Stronger, Safer America," “Hope to Higher Ground,” or rhetorical questions like "Are you really willing to trust this woman who oversaw Benghazi?" No matter what happens, our hopes will be disappointed.  Our fears may or may not come to pass.  Somebody will be elected and by 2018 we will say on Facebook, "that is not what we meant, that is not what we meant at all!" 

Which raises the question: what do we mean? What changes do we want? What do we wish to preserve? What really matters to us? What are we, citizens of this fair land, about in 2016?

Here are some ground rules of what I will be looking for from our candidates.

The Economy:  I want a more equitable society for a growing economy.  As Eduardo Porter notes “The trick to achieving a more equitable society might simply be to turn the government from an active participant in widening inequality, to one that at least seeks — through norms, laws, regulations — to narrow the gap.” All else (taxation, the size of government, infrastructure spending, daycare, social security, national debt, etc.) is subordinate. I will be judging our candidates by that standard. 

Education: I want education available to all. We should promote education that meets the needs of the economy, but also education that builds well-rounded citizens, with an understanding of history, the sciences, economics, philosophy, the arts, politics, and capable of critical thinking. Education should not leave students with burdensome debt when they are finished. I will be judging our candidates by whether they are willing to put their money where their mouth is on education.

Policing, Crime & Punishment: I want a society that is even-handed, with respect and due process for all. I will be judging our candidates on where they stand on tackling our dysfunctional criminal justice system, on rehabilitation, and whether they are willing to invest in programs to heal society? Fear is no reason to compromise fairness and due process. I will dismiss any candidate who promotes fear to shortchange fairness and due process. I will reject any candidate who lacks respect for individuals, promotes militarization of law enforcement, or fails to demonstrate empathy for all.  

Respect for reason and the political process:  I want to be represented by a person of experience, who is capable, and who demonstrates a great amount of wisdom and common sense. I will  judge our candidates by how much they are committed to reason, intellectual honesty, an open mind, and readiness to respect others. 

Foreign Policy: No hotheads or fear-mongering allowed. I will judge our candidates by where they fall on the communitarian—nationalist scale. The modern democratic state, envisioned in the Enlightenment, formed through revolutions in Britain, America, and France, and forged through two world wars remains vulnerable and is not to be taken for granted. Our country's commitment to communitarian values through the United Nations has varied. When it comes to inflicting violence on others, we have often done so unilaterally, as in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. I will judge our candidates by whether they are willing to work towards furthering the well being of modern democratic states in a firm but communitarian and positive environment. 

The Environment: Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, they say. So we are all “environmentalists.” George W. Bush touted himself “a good steward of the environment”despite walking away from the Kyoto protocol by questioning the science of global warming, breaching his campaign promise to regulate carbon emissions from coal burning power plants, blocking data showing the acceleration of global warming, and dismantling a regulatory system designed to protect the environment. I will judge our candidates by the sincerity of their commitment to sound environmental policies.

Gay Marriage, Gun Control, Abortion: These are tremendously divisive issues in our society. I will judge our candidates by how respectful, tolerant, and respectful they are of divergent views on these sensitive issues. I will judge our candidates on whether they can lead a discussion that builds towards a consensus on these issues.

Leadership: Finally I will judge our candidates by whether they demonstrate leadership skills to move us forward in a positive and effective manner on all of these issues.

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