Monday, December 27, 2010

Choosing A Candidate -- The Fundamentals

At a Christmas party the other day, the conversation turned to politics, as so often happens these days. No one there supported Obama, or any other Democrat, although several were convinced that Hillary would challenge him. More interestingly, there was a distinct concern about the lack of quality Republican candidates to challenge Obama. And this brought up the question of what should one look for in a political candidate?

As a conservative, I certainly want my candidate to be a conservative. But that’s just part of the equation. In a general sense, there are four qualities I want to see in my political candidates even before I examine their conservative beliefs.

The first quality I want to see is that the candidate is well informed. Without a basic knowledge of facts, e.g. people, places, conflicts, and issues, I find it very difficult to support anyone for political office. I’m not saying that you need to know the current president of Kerpsplatistan off the top of your head, but any candidate who doesn’t have a passing familiarity with current events, budgeting, our history and form of government, and who our friends are in the world and what our interests are, just isn’t someone we should be electing. Not only is the learning curve too steep to pick up this kind of knowledge in office, but anyone who has made it to adulthood without this knowledge lacks the intellectual curiosity to make an effective political leader -- it’s like choosing a doctor who never cared about anatomy and thinks they can look it up as needed. That’s not someone we can trust to make good decisions. Indeed, that's the kind of person who either plans to fake their way through the job or will quickly become a puppet of their advisors/donors.

And even worse, anyone who would try to become a political leader despite this lack of knowledge either doesn’t grasp how ill-equipped they are, and s thus a fool, or doesn’t care, and is thus an opportunist. Indeed, such people represent the “something for nothing” or “reward without work” school of “thought,’ which is anathema to conservative thinking. So why would we accept them as a candidate?

The second quality I want to see in a candidate is that they have the ability to use logic and reasoning. One of the problems I have with most Democrats (and many Republicans) is that they lack the ability to reason. These people are incapable of grasping concepts like cause and effect and they are constantly proposing “solutions” to problems that cannot possibly solve the problem. A classic example of such a failure is John McCain. During the last Presidential campaign, McCain was asked what he would do about the $400 billion deficit. His response was that he would end the $40 billion practice of earmarking, and it was clear that he simply did not grasp that $40 billion in cuts would not solve a $400 billion problem. This lack of ability to use even simple logic is sadly all-too-common in our political class.

The third quality I want to see in a candidate is someone who has principles, but also is willing to change their minds when they are proven wrong. Too many politicians (people in general, actually) can never admit that they are wrong. This is a bad sign. All the greats in history, all the best CEOs, all the smartest scientists, and so on, have had the ability to evaluate the results of their actions, to see when they are mistaken, and to change course accordingly. To stick with a bad answer merely because you are unwilling to admit a mistake is a much greater failure than being wrong in the first place and is not something we should tolerate in our candidates.

But it is equally wrong to flip or flop merely because you run into opposition. It is a candidate’s principles that make us decide whether or not they are worthy of occupying an office. If they have no true principles, then we should not support them as we have no idea what they stand for or will do.

Finally, the fourth quality I’d like to see is a track record of conservative achievement, i.e. actual experience in putting conservative ideas into practice. It drives me crazy when a politician gives one good speech and suddenly everyone wants to see them in the White House. Never forget that speeches are meaningless because they don’t require politicians to commit, and almost all speeches are written for our trained-monkey politicians by their handlers. When candidate Obama read those supposedly pretty speeches, you didn’t learn anything about him except that he was a competent reader. All you really knew was what his speechwriters thought you wanted to hear. That’s why political records are so vital. Political records not only tell us how a particular politician has made up their mind in the past, which gives us insight into how they will act in the future, but they show how successful the candidate has been at implementing conservative ideas. A candidate can say all the right things, but if their history is one without achieving a single goal, then what are the odds they will suddenly become successful if we promote them? Would you promote a failed fry cook to CEO just because he uses the right buzzwords?

At the same time, we should be leery of candidates who demonstrate behaviors that are inconsistent with what they are saying. Candidates who talk about budget cuts, but spend like drunken Congressmen; candidates who speak of traditional values but then live like libertines; candidates who promise to end corruption and corporate influence, but then rely on corporate influence. . . hypocrisy is a huge warning sign of someone who is not what they claim to be, and who will abandon their promises once they no longer need you to get what they want.

To me, these are the fundamental requirements for any candidate before we even look at what kind of conservative they are. These are like minimum requirements. Fail these and I’m not interested.



Unknown said...

Bobby Jindal and Louisiana come to mind. Also, Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Both are solid conservatives. Both took over states in desperate condition and turned them around, even during a major recession. Both are willing to listen, but have the smarts to choose the best alternative, not merely the loudest. Chris Christies ain't half bad either.

I think your criteria are excellent, and I agree wholeheartedly.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Lawhawk, I guess arguing with the insane and the intoxicated can lead to clarity?

And let me be clear, these are just like a required minimum, this isn't all that I would look for.

I like Daniels and Jindal to a degree, though no one in the field thrills me. In fact, I can rattle off a lot more negatives that positives about all of them. And the people I was with (a mix of conservatives, radical conservatives, and moderates) were really negative on the whole field. They hated everyone you could mention.

I guess we'll see how things shape up.

Tennessee Jed said...

Those are all good criteria, Andrew. I'd also like to see a candidate with a high "Q" rating. This tends to mean, youthful and telegenic, but not always (look at Reagan's re-election.) My only point, is it helps the "electability" of the candidate.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree about the Q factor -- and there other things I'd like to see as well, such as being a fast thinker on their feet, being a talented speaker, etc. But to me, this is the preliminary list. If they can't pass these tests, then I think they are fundamentally unfit top serve and we shouldn't even get to the other criteria.

I'll probably do another article on the next level of requirements later in the week (it's a sloooooooow news week).

T_Rav said...

Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels are the only guys I can think of who really meet those criteria. I don't think I can deal with Romney a second time, I'm starting to worry about Palin, and I would be gritting my teeth if I had to choose Huckabee over Obama. I have no idea if those two will actually make a run at the nomination, but I would probably enjoy seeing a Jindal/Daniels ticket more than anything else.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, This is just an initial hurdle, not a full test -- kind of like a "are you even competent enough for us to consider you" test rather than a "would we select you" test.

I'm thinking about writing a "phase 2" for later in the week to get more into how I would select between the candidates who pass this initial hurdle.

I've said before that I have issues with Palin, and I don't think she passes this test. But she's hardly the only one. In fact, when I look around, many of them fail at this level. And even those who don't still aren't appealing.

What amazed me about the party was that nobody had anything but criticism for each of the candidates. I was expecting that one or two candidates would draw some support at least, but none of them did. In fact, the best anyone did was Christie, who got a "seems like a good guy, but I don't know anything about him and I want to see if he can win a second election first before I'd even consider him." So it does seem to be slim pickings.

Beside Christie, the only other name people seemed to like was Rubio, but that was also "he could be good, but we need to see in a couple years."

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. T_Rav, What are you hearing at the college level? And, what other criteria would you use either as a basic qualifier or later on?

Individualist said...

Huckabee and Palin, lets face it the reason they went to "puppet theater" as Mr. Universe of Serenity would call it is that they are done and they know it.

The unfortunate thing is that over the years many of the conservatives with political experience that would give them the working knowledge we want have damaged themselves with the conservative base and the independents. Public just does not want OK we'll just spend a little less conservatives anymore. This causes Rove fits and makes Huckiabee lecture us about "governing". Problem is the ones he says are governing are acquiesing to spending one trillion we don't have. It is not sustainable and the public knows it. They see the riots in Greece.

Honestly I feel strongly that the executive branch for now should not be where we bet our poker chips. One of the mistakes the libertarians made was spending what little capital they had on putting Barr into the White House as a pointless gesture and not focusing on State and maybe congressional races which if funded they may have shots at winning even if it is a minority position it is better than nothing.

The Tea party, conservatives and independents concerned with spending should not fall into the trap of thinking one President can turn things around. When you are forced to vote for trillions in spending to "govern" you've lost. The change has got to come at the house where the money is spent and the Senate where it is approved. As long as the Dems have the ability to mold not raising taxes in a recession or not spending hundredsw of billions we don't have in the debate we are losing. We need enough in those bodies demanding real fiscal responsibility to make that the "talking point" one has to compete with. Then when we have had a congress that "gets" it long enough we'll have experienced candidates we can accept in the executive. Until that happens we should not get our hopes up. There is really too much real work to do first. Just some random thoughts.

CrispyRice said...

Interesting article Andrew. As an initial test, I like this, but I do want to see more about what makes the candidates conservative. I’m not sure who I like yet as a candidate.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Thanks! As I've said, this is just the first hurdle. If they can't pass this, then they have no business being in politics in the first place -- in fact, if we got rid of the people who can't pass these tests (liberal and conservative), I think out government would improve dramatically.

But once they pass this hurdle, then there are a whole host of other questions to consider about them, such as what are their views on the issues, how do they make decisions, do they tend toward trying to stretch the role of government, etc.

I can't blame you for not having made up your mind, as I'm not sure there are any obvious choices yet. Plus, it's always wise to wait to get as much evidence as possible before making up your mind -- very commendable.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, You make some great points. I don't know if Huckabee believes that he's finished, as he seems pretty intent on getting on the ticket somehow. But I think that Palin has chosen a path that she knows is unlikely to lead to the presidency. Instead, I think she has charted a course that leads to celebrity, wealth and guru-status, kind of alike a cross between Oprah and Newt Gingrich.

In terms of the bases, there is a very destructive element in the base that insists on intellectual purity that is not compatible with the real world. Some votes (particularly budget votes) will include things that you don't like -- it's just the nature of governing. The real question should be how hard they work to change that system compared to how easily they are coopted, not have they ever cast a vote we don't like.

I will never forget the concerns about Fred Thompson by an abortion group, which decided that despite his 100% record of voting with them, he once wrote "NA" on an informal survey in the 1980s about a constitutional ban on abortion and therefore he was unreliable. That's insanity. Many libertarians are now turning on Ron Paul because he hasn't been 100% on all the issues either -- he's been "coopted." Seriously?

I think demanding perfection has damaged a lot of good potential candidates.

AndrewPrice said...


And I think many of the talking heads are part of this problem. It's very easy to criticize when you have no responsibility. It's much harder to actually decide what needs to be done and cast the votes. But the talking heads can go on television or the radio and criticize without any sort of repercussions. Moreover, they can be inconsistent or even hypocritical without anyone calling them on it. This becomes a gotcha trap for real politicians, who simply cannot win no matter what they do. And when we accept that criticism, all we do is destroy good people. We need to be more careful about what we will hold against people.

Finally, I think having the Presidency is important these days because of the power vested in the agencies. BUT, the key to real change is to fill everything from dog catcher on up. That's where you get real, sustainable change. One man at the top cannot do what 10,000 people at the bottom and in the middle can do.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I like this list Andrew. I also see that Palin's name comes up a lot in the comments, and not in a positive way. It kind of irks me when I hear people compare her to Reagan, when she has no comparable experience. She utterly fails your point #4--a track record of conservative achievement. I don't know if the average Palin fan realizes that Reagan was a two-term governor and president of the Screen Actors Guild, not to mention the years he spent at GE speaking to the American public. How can Palin begin to compare? An incomplete term as governor?

Maybe another qualifier in your list should be not too many negatives, and Palin fails that one too.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Pitts! I'm glad you like the list.

I agree about the comparison between Palin and Reagan, but let me point out that I don't like any comparison to Reagan these days. Too many people who want to promote a candidate latch onto some minor aspect of Reagan and say "my guy is like Reagan!" But it's never true. Reagan was a man who honed his skills and his political views over decades of extremely useful experience, had an incredible track record of success in the things he did, and showed a true dedication to the "art" of politics. Too many today think that one good speech or a good term in office (or half term more often than not) qualifies someone for a comparison to Reagan. That's just ridiculous.

In terms of having too many negatives, I would say that's definitely part of the analysis, but I would put that a lot later. Before we even get to the question of "are they sellable to the public" I want to make sure that we're trying to "sell" the right people. Hence, this list is about weeding out those who are simply not up to the task. Next, I would say we should delve into how they think and what they believe. Then we should look at the candidates who survive that list to see if they can be sold to the public -- which is where so many of the negatives come in.

And let me say, while I am criticizing Palin in the comments here, I feel the same way about everyone else who has tossed their names into the mix so far -- none of them have given me much reason to like them, and most have instead given me a lot of reasons to dislike them.

I honestly have no one that I support at this point.

Individualist said...


I can't disagree with any points you have made.

One of the "talking heads" out there that I do like is Andrew Wilcow of the Wilcow Majority on Sirius XM. He seems to not focus on criticizing persons but "process". He worries about things like McCain Feingold Campaign Reform and Medicare taking over prescription drugs on the Repblican side but he talks about the problems the GOP have in making these decisions and why they are making these bad decisions more than he does about the people that made them.

For me this is what we need to focus on. We have to admit that right now we do not control the debate, even when we take over because the RINO's in the party get the press. No one outside of FOX News is going to publicize Michelle Bachman's points except in derision. We need to focus on forcing conservatives to repeat the messages we want. We need to make them issues in the campaigns and overcome the media barrier and make them issues when they govern.

Otherwise "governing" is going to be synomous with "cave in to the liberals for our own shuffling of the political abacus." It's got to stop and it won't stop without a constant vigilance on congress, not to pick apart individual congressmen but to pick apart bad process. There is no other way the country's fiscal mess is going to be fixed outside of bloodshed otherwise.

There is a lot of work to do....

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I couldn't agree more. There is a problem with Washington that it's a rigged game. You could send the best people on the planet as your representatives, and they still will be frustrated and most likely fail because the system is against them.

Take the budget for example. The way the voting process is set up, anyone can jam anything they want into the budget. That means a "yes" vote will include both things you like and things you hate, which votes are then used against you. It also lets the more dishonest among the political class come up with this strange twisty vote game where a vote for something is actually a vote against it and vice versa... so you just can't win no matter how you vote.

Then you have the problem that they've made the government so complex that it takes a 10,000 page bill to get anything done, and it's an unreadable mess that only true wonks can make heads or tails of. Add the last minute rush on these things and you have a process that leads to chaos and disaster and exploitation... not rational principled debate. We need to change the whole process of governing if we want this to change.

Now I'm not excusing those politicians who get to Washington and dive right in -- there are far too many of those -- but the first problem is the process, the second is the people.


AndrewPrice said...

And in terms of the people, I look to the example of Jim DeMint. Here is a guy who is actually trying to change the culture of the Senate, and all he's gotten is personal hatred from the people who should be helping him. That's an example of personal failure, not just process failure. And in those instances, we should toss out the people who are enabling the bad process.

I don't know Wilcow, but he sounds like a good guy. That's the kind of thinking that will actually fix the problem, not just shuffle the deck chairs.

And you're right about us losing the debate. We have a lot of disadvantage in term of media bias, but we also are our own worst enemies. We lack a unified message, too many conservatives don't believe or understand conservative ideas, too many on our side have no idea what to advocate except "not what the Democrats want", and too many conservatives don't grasp that politics requires you to sell your ideas -- the public won't accept them just because they are good ideas. We need to overcome those issues.

(Sorry for the continued posts, but I keep getting a message about these posts being too long.)

Ed said...

Sorry I'm late! I like this list, recognizing that it's just a first hurdle. I think this list really gets to "core competence." If they can't pass this, then they shouldn't be given any sort of decision making power. Thanks.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Better late than never, right? That's a good word for the list -- core competency.

Ed said...

You're a forgiving blogger! Lol!

AndrewPrice said...

Sure Ed! LOL!

Actually, there is no requirement that anyone comment, so we really can't complain if people don't comment. It's the life of a blogger, and I'd rather have people comment when they want to than feel like they need to.

DUQ said...

Excellent list. Now how do we decide if they're conservatives or not?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, That's for another day.

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