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Friday, November 9, 2012

A Political Vision

The election is over. For me, the timing of the campaigns coincided with extended learning and meditation on “vision” (more on that in future posts), and that shaped how I went about deciding who to vote for. I’m not sure that it changed my votes, but it changed how I thought about the decisions.

Some people vote based on tribal affinity (party, race, religion, whatever)—I probably do more of that than my intellect wants to admit. Some vote on personality, others on experience or on intuitive guesses about a candidate’s leadership skills. But most Americans vote on “the issues”—or at least, this is what most Americans believe that mature, responsible, reasonable people do, so that’s what they claim to do.

For the first time, I’m not sure I agree that we ought to cast our vote based on the issues. That’s because, when you see what a candidate believes about “the issues,” the issues are put forth as basically unrelated. To the extent they are grouped, the groups are typically “foreign,” “economic,” and “social”—that is, where the issues present themselves. But does that mean they are unrelated across those categories?

And why do candidates have the positions that they hold on these different “issues”? And why do parties? What is it about a party that connects its positions on abortion and multilateral diplomatic organizations other than sheer coincidence? The more I study history and see different collections of positions on “issues” in parties in other times, the more random and arbitrary these collections appear.

Or maybe they just appear that way because of the candidates who espouse them. This is where “vision” comes in. Why could I scarcely find any vision among the candidates whose ads I saw? The lack of clarity was astonishing. Where were the persistent values, clear mission, and non-negotiable strategy that a politician might govern by over an entire career and that integrate his or her positions on the various “issues”? Where was the portrayal of a tangible, attractive future and a measurable intermediate step to get there? The muddledness and message vagrancy were so pervasive that I started thinking that any candidate who could exhibit clarity about governing would automatically win just by showing up.

But perhaps not. In one race, one major-party candidate was considerably closer to vision clarity than the other. But I voted for the other, because I didn’t approve of the vision that the one put forth. I reasoned that the unclear candidate, who will probably be ineffective over their forthcoming term, is less dangerous than the clear one. So vision clarity is not enough in politics—people also need to approve of your vision. This might actually be the reason why clarity is so hard to come by.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about what my political vision is. If I were running—or, more to the point, governing—what would guide me and serve as the intellectual basis by which I would approach each of the “issues”? Here is what I came up with: a list of six values that correspond to six strategies to realize those values. Some strategies could connect with other values than the ones I pair them with. In certain situations, values conflict, and it is difficult to arbitrate between them. And I don’t get into where exactly we should be going and what the first priority “rallying cry” issue is to get us closer to it. But nevertheless, what’s here is a tool I tried to use to measure the candidates I was faced with instead of scattershot, confused “issue” evaluation. This was not an easy thing to do, since none of them talk the way I talk here.

I’ll also mention that my sources for this list are a combination of theological principles, historical study, personal experience, and probably something else. But I won’t be giving any rationales here.

So here they are:

Value #1: The People are the Government. “The government” is merely the tool by which the People govern themselves. And like it or not, we’re all in it together. Strategy #1: Make it sustainable. If my home needed repaired, I’d fix it. If my bank account were draining, I would change how I spent my money and see what I could do to get more of it. If my commitments wore out my ability to keep them, I would change them or change my routine. And if things were bad enough, I’d try anything to keep my household afloat. The point: All the unsustainability in government isn’t government’s problem; it’s our problem and my problem. The more severe the crisis we are in or to which we’re heading, the more pragmatic flexibility we all should be motivated to employ to bail ourselves out of it.

Value #2: By the book. Laws aren’t suggestions. Neither is the Constitution. We live by what’s written there, not what we wish were written there. Strategy #2: Enforce it or change it. Living according to law is so important that if it truly is impractical or undesirable, change it. It damages the majesty of the law less to change it to fit the reality that it’s being flagrantly disobeyed than it does to ignore it either in principle or in enforcement.

Value #3: One and many. Americans are individuals. Americans are groups. Americans are one. None of these is more true than the others. Strategy #3: The closer, the better. Responsibility for well-being should be laid at the lowest level with the narrowest scope and the greatest diversity in which the responsibility can effectively be met, and that level must be given the complete power and freedom to do so. But if the lowest level possible is also the highest level available—the nation—then the national government needs that power.

Value #4: Equality of freedom. Freedom is both “freedom from” interference from the government and “freedom to” live a life or do a thing that the government may make possible. Every American deserves the same “freedom from” and “freedom to,” though outcomes of exercising those freedoms are never guaranteed. (Note: Defining the bearer[s] of freedom involves major interplay with Value #3.) Strategy #4: Power for the weak. Exertion of governmental power to limit freedom must always limit the freedom of the strong as the means to extend or protect the freedom of the weak (educationally, politically, economically, physically, etc.).

Value #5: Second chances. America should be (and at its best in fact is) the place where people can come to get a new start in life and where people who give something a shot and fail aren’t sunk forever. Strategy #5: Channel the market. The market is like a river. Damming it is an exercise in futility; allowing it to run unencumbered threatens devastation every time it floods. We establish boundaries—limits—on the market while employing market-based solutions for problems. Above all, provide people who get flooded the means to rebuild on better ground.

Value #6: America for the world. We don’t exist for ourselves. We are, so that the rest of the world would be better. Strategy #6: Lead ourselves. We can’t control anyone but ourselves, much as we are tempted to think we can. But because we can control ourselves, then functioning excellently within what we can control, despite the huge risks, is the lever by which we affect the destinies of nations. Try to get other nations into line, and we fail. Get ourselves right, and the world must adjust.

1 comment:

  1. Well stated,beautifully conceived. Thank you.