“I will always vote what I have promised, and always vote the Constitution, as well as I will not vote for one single penny that isn’t paid for, because debt is the monster, debt is what’s going to eat us up and that is why our economy is on the brink.” – Ron Paul
Word went out today that Ron Paul is getting into the 2012 presidential election. Here’s hoping …
I suppose it would come as no surprise that Ron Paul is one of my favorite politicians and statesmen. He’s certainly not the only candidate I would vote for, not by any stretch, but his political views probably lie closer to my own than any other politician I can think of – certainly than any other presidential candidate.
The announcement got me to thinking a bit about just how I assess presidential candidates, and what I look for. My preferences tend to run from principles, to abilities, and lastly to politics.
I, as with Frederic Bastiat, feel that the proper role of a government that is formed of, by, and for the people, is defense of the individual rights of said people. Bastiat listed these rights as life, liberty, and property – which derives from the first two. The Declaration of Independence left off property and added “pursuit of happiness.” It would appear that each is a derivative of George Mason’s construct in the Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
I like these lists, probably Mason’s the best (as it’s the most inclusive) – and I also like the order in the lists. We are granted life. Since it is granted to each of us as individuals, life implies liberty. Having freedom to move and use one’s own life implies the ability to move in economic forums and acquire property. Freedom also implies the ability to pursue happiness.
Life. The issue of life in our times, and in our country, is abortion. This is not a question of freedom – but one of life. When does life begin? I believe that it is at conception. Others believe differently; which is fine. Let us only be clear that the argument should be about life and its beginnings.
There are certainly those who will indeed argue that life begins at birth, or at some time other than conception (e.g., “viability”). I don’t ascribe to these arguments, but they are arguments about the main issue. There are others who will concede “life at conception” – but argue for legalized abortion just the same. This turns human rights upside down. It allows liberty, or the pursuit of happiness to subvert life. It allows my rights to supersede yours, making us unequal.
From a candidate standpoint, this issue is pinnacle. If you cannot get this one right then I find no cause to trust you with the rest. On this alone, we can eliminate just about every Democratic candidate, as well as a few Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump).
I must say, I think this one alone is my sole deal-breaker.
Liberty. Freedom, self-determination. To what extent does a candidate want to leave people free to live their own lives, and make their own decisions? I have to say, in modern governance, most politicians score poorly on this one.
Their failures most often take the form of government interventionism in free markets. (For instance, you and I would to enter into an agreement, but the government disallows it – for our own good.) This is generally where I part ways with folks like Lindsay Graham and, I hate to say it, but Mike Huckabee too (as likable as he is).
Property. This is certainly much easier to quantify that “pursuit of happiness.” Where do the candidates stand on the principles of individual property ownership? Are the things that we have acquired through free exercise of life and liberty our own, or are they lent to us by the government? Where do the candidates stand on rather trivial litmus test property issues like the death tax?
Not unimportant, but certainly secondary to principles, are a candidate’s abilities. The president must be a leader. Note, that leadership and management are very different things – and the former is far more important for a president. He can hire all the managers he wants (isn’t that what the chief of staff is for?) – but he cannot outsource leadership.
With leadership, comes the ability to make decisions, which is critical for the president. After all, the president has to make a lot of decisions, and has to have the courage to do so. While George W. Bush and I disagree on a lot of things, such as principles of freedom, he could certainly make a decision and lead. I’m not saying I’d vote for him if he were to run again (I almost certainly would not) – but he was a leader. (Contrast this with the rather ineffectual and indecisive approach of Barack Obama.)
After leadership comes the ability to communicate, and the necessary soft skills to move in government circles (the mythical “charm” that greases the wheels a bit). Reagan was an unparalleled communicator, and Clinton may have had the best soft skills of anybody.
So, who has it in the current field of candidates? Well, certainly not Obama (but we discontinued consideration of him all the way back at life). What of the others? Hard to say. These guys (and girls) have been in politics for so long that they have built a nice repertoire of soft skills – and certainly there are some of them have not really been in leadership roles to date. We’ll see how this develops as the debates move forward.
Interestingly, this is the one that so many primary voters move to the top. Is this candidate “electable”? The question in and of itself says that we are choosing between the lesser of two evils. The worst thing in the world is for the other party to win, so the best thing we can do is choose a candidate that is electable.
I find this to by quite a misnomer. Describing a candidate as electable is the same as describing a blind date as having a great personality. Really, you’re going to lead with that? Oh, it may be true – but it’s not the first thing you’d describe … unless there’s nothing else. Candidates who are electable generally have no glaring flaws, but nothing else to distinguish themselves. And they are, as a matter of course, perhaps not as electable as we might think.
That said, politics are not a consideration to be thrown away completely. I fully support a Ron Paul candidacy – and I think he’d make a fantastic president. But, to get elected he would have to change hearts and minds, and even form a new coalition, not just be the anti-Obama. He could possibly do well with pulling away some counter-culturals on the left (libertarianism actually plays pretty well over there). But he’d have a large hill to climb with the socially conservative religious right. (Hey, I actually support legalization of drugs – not because they’re moral, but because it’s not the government’s business – but selling that as a campaign issue to evangelicals could be tricky.)
So, those are my thoughts on the selection process. I’d love to see Ron Paul win the nomination – I really would. It would prove an exciting contrast in the political scene, one that is badly needed. If not, then I at least hope that his involvement in the campaign will change the issues somewhat, and bring about a useful discussion on life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness – on a government of, by, and for the people; not a government over the people.