Judgment call

September 2, 2008

“We can’t afford on-the-job training for our next president.” That was Hillary Clinton, way back in November, speaking of Barack Obama, though not mentioning him by name. This was my reaction:

Being president is a unique challenge, and in an election when there is no incumbent, there is no candidate who has any relevant experience.

[. . .]

When the first crisis comes for the next president — and it will surely come quickly — what will matter is that persons’s character and judgment and intellect and accumulation of life wisdom. Choosing the person with the right combination of those qualities will be a gigantic leap of faith for all voters. 

Often, I look back on what I’ve written and think it inadequate. But this makes me seem, forgive the boast, like an absolute genius, especially considering the total dumbassery being exhibited by both Democrats and Republicans over the past few days. Most of the political coverage has been on John McCain’s stunning choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. The Republicans have all kinds of defenses for her “lack of experience,” conveniently forgetting how hard they’ve been hitting Obama for the same thing. Democrats gleefully attack Palin’s lack of experience, seemingly obivious of how hard they’ve worked to defelct such criticism of their candidate.

What is it that makes normally intelligent people become such repeat-the-party-line morons when it comes to partisan politics? Democrats see not complicated issues but an epic good vs. evil struggle, with those rotten, rich capitalists topping the list of bad guys. Republicans pooh-pooh such simplicity but then screech about their own heroes and villains, with rotten, liberal anti-Americans topping guess which list. The same people who celebrate the individual courage of the lone, heroic artist also warn us about the poor, downtrodden masses exploited by the corporate robber barons. The same ones who say we should emulate the heroic endeavors of the individual entrepreneur also lament the seduction of the ill-informed masses by the immoral forces of popular culture. It’s gotten to the point where I walk away from longtime friends when the subject of politics comes up.

Of course, I have my own strongely held beliefs that put me at risk of dumbassery. No. 1 on my list is the eternal struggle of the individual against the group. Either the individual owes allegiance to the group, or the group should defer to the individual — that is the history of the world. I believe with every fiber of my being that the individual must come first. That is the path to freedom. The other way has led to every tyranny in history.

I’ve been reading for a couple of years about “libertarian paternalism” — said to be the hottest political theory to come along in a long time — and trying to decide what I think about it. It basically proposes changing defaults from “opt in” to “opt out” to encourage people to do what is best for them without making them do it. Most people go with the flow — if they have to sign up, for example, for the 401(k), they won’t; if they will be in the 401(K) unless singing up to say no, most will stay in. People should be in their 401(k), so let’s just make it the default to be in it rather than out of it. I finally decided that libertarian paternalism is crap. It assumes that the group knows better than the individual what the individual should do, and, when it applies to government programs, it makes continued growth the default positiion. What in the world is “libertarian” doing in the description of that philosophy?

So that’s my issue to look like a moron over, how I judge the candidates. Respect for the individual from Obama or his running mate, who are among the top three in the U.S. Senate when it comes to taking money from individuals and passing it around, mostly based  on group need or privilege? Please. John McCain, who is the proud son of a military culture and disdains private enterprise because it distracts from public service? Don’t think so. The only candidate I can see that has even an inkling of the importance of putting the individual above the group is Sarah Palin, the one of the four who seemingly has the thinnest “experience” resume. Talk about a tough judgment call.

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