The Difference Between Morality and Policy

Faced with the following dilemma, what do you do: vote for a good man with bad policy, or a bad man with good policy?

Obviously my question is inspired by the 2016 US Presidential race.

Obama is a good man, but his policies may not be ones I agree with.

Trump is a bad man, but (if we knew his policies) I may agree with them.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine I actually know Trump’s policies and agree with them.

And, because Barack is a bit more interesting to me than Hillary, let’s say Trump is running against Barack Obama.

Do you vote for a leader primarily because of their policies? Or do you vote for them primarily because of who they are?

Let’s put this another way. Which factor carries more weight: a leader’s intended policy or his character?

This is unfortunately impossible to measure so the answer is ultimately personal, subjective, and eternally nebulous in value.

But it’s still a good thought exercise.

I can see a party, The Republican Party, ushering in a man who verbally and physically mistreats women, yet as Obama said: “You claim the mantle of the party of family values, and this is the guy you nominate,”. A better point I couldn’t have made myself.

I don’t know how individuals get chosen by a party, in great detail, so I can’t say exactly how this inconsistency was given life. Perhaps the Republican Party was never the party of family values? Or perhaps, like all individuals on earth, the party is trying to achieve a goal and isn’t always succeeding.

Here’s the deal with a head of a democracy: they are only a head. The 535 congressmen, judicial system, and millions serving in government agencies limit his power by having power of their own. This ultimately makes the answer easy: you vote for a good man with bad policy.

Why? The effects of his policy will be limited by all the other parts of government, but no one can stop the affects of his image, his person, his attitude, his style of thinking. And, unfortunately, this is the hardest to measure. But we are less rational creatures than we’d like to think. Therefore, I think the policy intentions of one limited man mean far less than the content of his character. Which of the things your parents told you do you remember? Practically nothing. What of who they are do you remember? Basically all of it. What we remember, and therefore what we are compelled by, is the character of a person.

Is Barak Obama inspiring? You bet. The husband of one wife, molester of none, and who can put together a sentence. Is Trump inspiring? Only to tears. The husband of three, molester of some, and who has difficulty constructing a sentence of any sophistication (let alone depth).

Also character affects policy. A bad man can’t be trusted. But a good man (please forgive the over simplicity) first can be trusted and is aware of his own frailty, which in turn means open to change. So, if push comes to shove, prioritizing morality over policy makes sense. In theory.

In reality, we have a bad man (of sorts) heading a good country (of sorts) down a path invisible to nearly all of us (because, again, what are his policies?!?). I distinctly think the primary reason we don’t know his policies is that he doesn’t either.

May God Bless America.

The Presidential Debate

The first presidential debate is Monday and I am convinced it will not feel presidential. The primary reason for this is that one half of the debate is, as Colin Powell says, “a national disgrace and an international pariah.” I think of him as a child – unruly, self-obsessed, definitively lacks knowledge, glories in chaos and problem-causing, can not construct sentences well, appears to still be learning English, feels no need to tell the truth (or publicize his tax returns), and does not appear to value thought itself. He needs a mommy and daddy. Children should stay home and not enter politics.

But on the topic of debate, it is stunning to notice the time difference. In 1858, the opening speaker in the Lincoln-Douglas debate got 60 minutes. In 2016, the opening speaker will get 2 minutes. TWO. Or, if you will, 120 seconds. (I should go on to say that in the 1858 debate, the second speaker got 90 minutes!) That is a massive cultural difference. What exactly can you fit in two minutes? Nothing of great complexity. Our current system and culture reinforce the kind of thinking that the *man-child embodies for the world to see.

Speaking of the man-child, it’s hard to imagine him debating in a civil manner. The article I read – which this post is largely based on – says the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention agreed “to argue without asperity, and to endeavor to convince the judgment without hurting the feelings of each other.” Hurting each other’s feelings? Asperity? (I had to look that one up: harshness of tone or manner.) From watching political debate on TV, I thought that was the goal. They do what I wouldn’t let 10-year olds do, i.e. interrupt each other, attack personally, and largely ruin the original intent of the event.

But perhaps debate isn’t worth much? Being a good debater, does not make you a good president, and the reverse. But the author of this article views debate with the highest possible regard: “Debating, like voting, is a way for people to disagree without hitting one another or going to war: it’s the key to every institution that makes civic life possible, from courts to legislatures. Without debate, there can be no self-government.

This article said many other good things. You should read it. But it goes on too long and doesn’t answer its main question: how should candidates—and voters—argue about politics? I was dearly looking forward to an answer to that question. Perhaps I’ll learn on Monday? I can only hope.

*The Republican candidate is so repugnant to me that I prefer to leave his name unwritten. Henceforth, he will be the man-child.