“AND THE WINNER IS….”
Political pundits seem prone to declare a “winner” of Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. By definition, winning and losing require a clear set of rules and objectives. Declaring a candidate the “winner” of a debate requires that the objectives of each candidate be the same, and that their performance be measured by the same standards or set of rules. Clearly this is not always the case, as was evident in this week’s Vice-Presidential debate. Each candidate may have “won” the debate based on what their goal was, but they were obviously not playing the same game. The general election has only one finish line, and the rules of the election are clear and applicable to all. Every “winning” moment prior to the vote on November 8 is largely irrelevant.
Before casting our vote, each of us must determine the set of criteria by which we will judge who is best fit to be our next President. I submit that there are three characteristics worth considering. Within those three each of us must define our own set of specific criteria. Mine are these:
- Does the candidate have the requisite knowledge and experience to understand the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency?
- If the candidate has never been President before, as is the case in 2016, is their experience and skill set transferrable to that needed by the President?
- Is the candidate a person of integrity (defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness”)?
- Does the candidate treat others with honor and respect?
- How accurate are the claims that the candidate makes? If they are not accurate, is the candidate deliberately lying, or simply ill-informed? In either case, how does the candidate correct that?
- Given that none of us possess total integrity all of the time, or are totally devoid of integrity all of the time, what is the relative integrity of each candidate? What effect will previous lapses of integrity have on the candidate’s ability to perform the duties and carry out the responsibilities required of the President at this time?
- Will others in our government view the candidate as having integrity and be able to work with him or her in a way that is trustworthy?
- Will other world leaders, both allies and adversaries, view our next President as having integrity?
- Consequently, how likely will those world leaders be to take seriously the positions of the United States, and our resolve to follow through on those positions, as articulated by our President?
- Does the candidate possess the appropriate temperament to be President (defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “a person’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior; the tendency to behave angrily or emotionally”)?
- Does the candidate possess self-awareness of their temperament, and are they able to adjust their behavior accordingly?
- Based on the candidate’s temperament, how successful will Congress be in working with the candidate to pass needed legislation?
- Likewise, how successful will bureaucrats in Cabinet departments be in implementing the laws that the President is charged with carrying out?
- How will the next President’s temperament be perceived by our citizens, our military commanders, those in uniform, and others around the world? What effect will that temperament have on those persons and their actions?
I have obviously written these characteristics and criteria with the 2016 election in mind. But they are applicable to all Presidential elections. Notice that I have not listed any policy positions in these criteria. Policy positions are important, but I think that the above are necessary prerequisites for the aspiring President prior to considering political persuasions and policy positions. In other words, experience, integrity, and temperament are more important than policy positions or ideology, and integrity and temperament are more important than experience. If both candidates are roughly equal in meeting the integrity and temperament tests, then it is appropriate to consider experience and policy in our decision of who to vote for. But if one candidate exceeds the other in that test, there is no point in looking further. Our republic has survived dramatic shifts in policy in the past. What is more important than policy is the experiential and personal capability of the person steering the ship of America.
Before declaring a “winner” of this or that debate, or applauding a political rally or endorsement, or a statement of opposition toward a particular candidate, let’s consider the characteristics and criteria by which we judge the candidates. Let’s be sure that we are applying the correct set of “game rules” to their run for office. Let’s strive to not simply react to the ideological positions that match or do not match ours, or to whatever the latest misdeed or indiscretion is that the morning news reports.