Monday, December 31, 2007

Presidential Candidates

We propose a general framework for evaluating presidential candidates.  The idea is not to come up with a model that provides a precise assessment of each candidate, but simply a framework for discussion.  If we can break down the candidates by key attributes, I think we are more likely to have an objective and fair discussion as free as possible from personal prejudice and ideology.  Let's make sure we agree on the categories and descriptions before we begin evaluations of each candidate.

Once we have established the framework I propose that we evaluate George W. Bush as a starting point (and perhaps Bill Clinton).  We don't have to agree 100% on this one to continue, but it will hopefully give us a good test case for how this works.

After that we will go through the major candidates - perhaps in order of current tradesports odds of winning to make sure we spend our time on the most important players.  The judgments need not be final, but can be updated as we learn more and think more about the various candidates.  Note: while the next president may very well be a woman, I am using male pronouns in the framework (as the vast majority of viable candidates are male).  If you are already offended by this you should probably find another blog to read.

Desired Attributes of the President of the United States:

Integrity:
  • Do you believe what he tells you?
  • Do his stated positions represent his personal beliefs or political expediency?
  • Will he abuse the power of the Presidency or seek to expand the powers of the Presidency beyond what he thinks is right and constitutional?
  • Will he stick to principle over ideology if and when he believes the states or congress should have jurisdiction (even if the states may adopt policies contrary to his own personal ideology)?
  • Will he make appointments that are best for the country or that reward loyalists?


Judgment (includes intellect, wisdom, and experience)
  • Does he have the intellect and confidence to take in (possibly conflicting) information and advice from cabinet members and other advisors and make the right (or best) decisions?
  • Does he have enough experience to have an intimate understanding of the key issues of the day and avoid naive judgments?
  • Do the key decisions of his career give you confidence that he will make the right decisions as President?
  • Does he appear susceptible to diplomatic gaffes or offenses in his speech or conduct?


Courage
  • Will he take an unpopular position he believes is right?
  • Will he confront his party/base in order to do what he believes is right?
  • Will he take a course of actions for the US that he believes is right in the face of opposition from the UN, NATO, other allies, and other countries if necessary?
  • Will be be willing to take unconventional approaches over politically safer options?
  • Based on new information and/or understanding will he make necessary changes to policy even if such changes will expose him to charges of inconsistency?
  • Will he stick with a policy he believes is right even if it becomes unpopular?


Leadership
  • How good an ambassador will he be for the United States?
  • How well will he unite the country behind him?
  • How well will he be able to drive public opinion to his side?
  • How well will he be able to persuade congress to enact his policies?
  • Does he have enough experience and support to navigate politics in the capital and lead even if his popularity slips?
  • How good a role model will he be?
  • Will he be able to call upon the American People to make short-term sacrifices for the good of the nation?  If so, does he have the capacity to bring the People along with him?
  • Has he demonstrated the capacity to be a coalition-builder, across party lines if necessary?
  • In his career has he pursued constructive solutions over political stonewalling?


Vision
  • Does he have a good vision for where this country should be years from now or can he only think in incremental steps?
  • Is he capable of new and better ideas where they are needed in place of the standard Democratic and Republican party lines?
  • Is he capable of adopting a long-term perspective, or will he get drawn into simply putting out fires?

Management

  • Will he defer to the expertise of his generals and political appointees?  Will he be so deferential as to abdicate his leadership role?
  • On that score, what measure of authority will he give political appointees over agency careerists?
  • Will he tolerate or even cultivate dissenting viewpoints on his staff, or will he value loyalty over truth-seeking?
  • Does he develop relationships or burn bridges?
Personal Ideology.  There are some desired qualities in a President which are inherently personal (eg, a person who believes that one day old embryos have souls and that destroying them is morally equivalent to murder may think differently about a pro-choice candidate than would someone who believes one day old embryos are little more than soulless blips).  These may be impossible to resolve in such a forum.  I say we leave them alone for now and use the other attributes as a starting point.

Candidates to evaluate:

Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Huckabee, Paul, Edwards, Gore, Thompson, Bloomberg

7 comments:

Phutatorius said...

This is good stuff. From 30,000 feet I expect that McCain would do well. And maybe Obama.

Under Judgment I might add:

• Does he appear susceptible to diplomatic gaffes or offenses in his speech or conduct?

Under Leadership:

• Will he be able to call upon the American People to make short-term sacrifices for the good of the nation? If so, does he have the capacity to bring the People along with him?

• Has he demonstrated the capacity to be a coalition-builder — across party lines if necessary?

• In his career has he pursued constructive solutions over political stonewalling?

Relatedly, under Vision:

• Is he capable of adopting a long-term perspective, or will he get drawn into simply putting out fires?

This one might tend us toward ideology, so I leave it to you to take or leave it. Vision, as well:

• Is he capable of taking a world-level view in his decisionmaking, or is his perspective overly Americo-centric?

Not sure if it might make sense to add a "Management" section. If so:

• Will he defer to the expertise of his generals and political appointees? Will he be so deferential as to abdicate his leadership role?

• On that score, what measure of authority will he give political appointees over agency careerists?

• Will he tolerate or even cultivate dissenting viewpoints on his staff, or will he value loyalty over truth-seeking?

• Does he develop relationships or burn bridges?

Ethan Allen Hawley said...

Good. I'll add some of these to the next draft (which will come out when we hear from a certain third pillar of the world). Just so we're clear on the "Judgment" section. This from Ron Chernow's autobiography of Alexander Hamilton gives an idea of what we're looking for:

If Washington lacked the first-rate intellect of Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Adams, he was gifted with superb judgment. When presented with options, he almost invariably chose the right one.

Ethan Allen Hawley said...

And this recent McCain-Romney spar, while perhaps petty at times, is directly relevant.

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/01/mccain-on-experience/

Ethan Allen Hawley said...

I have added the suggestions of Phutatorius without edit and added one more bullet under integrity. I'll try to get a Clinton post out within the next few days (since the primaries will be over soon, we may have to skip the W assessment for now)

Phutatorius said...

I worry just a little that this exercise won't really have the effect of eliminating subjectivity -- the subjectivity will just reveal itself at a more granular level, as we answer each question.

But maybe that's not what you're after, and you only mean to tear away the policy/ideological baggage and do a meaningful review of what's left.

Can a Republican fairly undertake such a review of Hillary Clinton? Could I fairly review Mitt Romney on these points? I suppose I can try . . .

Ethan Allen Hawley said...

The idea is to try. I think Romney's a weasel. This may impact my objectivity in assessing his integrity, but I think there are reasonable things to say about his leadership, judgment, etc. But if it weren't for something like this, I'd probably just say Romney's a weasel and be done with him . . .

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