Monday, January 07, 2008

Sifting the field

To piggyback on Jason’s post, I’ll briefly discuss certain general considerations I bring to bear when I sift the field of candidates.

One of the basic problems is that, in a presidential campaign cycle, it’s hard to get accurate, reliable information. Everyone has a stake in the outcome. The candidate, his staff, and sympathetic pundits try to paint their guy in the best possible light while the opposing candidate, his staff, and hostile pundits, try to paint the rival candidate in the worst possible light.

1.Sometimes a candidate is a known quantity. He has a long paper trail. In that case, it isn’t difficult to know or find out what he stands for.

2. The candidate’s website will summarize his stated positions. That’s one place to start.

3. Of course, the limitation with #2 is the possible discrepancy between his stated positions and his actual positions. Candidates often make campaign promises which they have no intention of keeping.

Still, #2 is not a useless exercise. For example, you may find that you disagree with so many of his stated positions this disqualifies him from further consideration. You don’t need to do any more research.

In a situation like this, to the extent that his actual positions deviate from his stated positions, they are probably even worse.

4. #2 also gives you a checklist of issues to Google. You can start with that and then do some fact-checking.

5. When I’m evaluating a Republican candidate, it can be more expeditious to see what liberal pundits have to say about him. Ironically, liberal pundits can be more useful than conservative pundits—in this particular regard.

Since liberal pundits oppose what I support, and support what I oppose, when they enumerate all of the things that are wrong with the Republican candidate, that generally gives me a quick list of things that I’m looking for in candidate.

I do need to add one caveat: liberal pundits will sometimes distort the position of a Republican candidate to make him look worse than he really is. From my viewpoint, this would have the effect of making him appear to be better than he really is.

6.It’s useful to compare a candidate’s stated position with his actual record of governance when he was in power. To compare what he says with what he did.

7.This raises the question of consistency. How important is it for a candidate to be consistent?

i) Consistency is not necessarily a virtue. You can be consistently wrong. You can be pigheaded. Impervious to correction.

ii) We shouldn’t automatically disqualify a candidate if he changes his position. For example, a state official might well have a different position on trade than a national candidate. For he is serving a different constituency.

iii) Likewise, human beings don’t have ready-made answers for every conceivable question. They don’t anticipate every contingency or eventuality. Rather, they frequently form their views and policies as they go along, in light of the practical challenges and available solutions.

iv) It’s certain kinds of inconsistency that disqualify a candidate. If he’s compromising on a position of principle. If he changes his position so many times, or changes so many positions, that he has no core values. A pure political opportunist. In that event, you don’t know what he would do in office.

8.Sometimes an evasive answer tells you what a candidate really believes. A candidate will dodge a question if he thinks a candid answer will cost him votes. Ironically, a candidate may reveal his position by trying to conceal it.

9. Candidates have natural constituencies. liberals support liberals. Libertarians support libertarians. Theocons support theocons. Hawks support hawks. Businessmen support businessmen.

It’s more informative when a pundit to who is not a natural constituent of the candidate supports or defends him. If, say, a Jew supports an Evangelical, then he may have something useful to say. He’s not in the tank for the candidate.

10.A candidate may also have a blog in which he and his staff defend the candidate against his critics. Of course, this is going to be very selective and one-sided. Still, it’s important to see how a candidate attempts to defend himself when his positions come under fire. Does he simply deny the charges? Or does he refute, or attempt to refute, the charges?

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