Saturday, February 13, 2016

Presidential Leadership and how I assess it

A response to Brett about how I evaluate presidential candidates, which turned into something too long for facebook.

Before assessing candidates I filter for likely supreme court picks and electability.  These are pass/fail tests, and only Clinton and Sanders pass them.  They're the ones I'll evaluate as leaders.

I think of leadership geographically.  A good leader's task depends on understanding:
  • Where we are (the real)
  • An intended destination, a place they want to lead us to (the ideal)
  • A route, a plan of action to go from where we are to where we should be.  That route is grounded in the real,  but looks forward to the ideal.
    • Implicit in the route is an understanding of time, and some reasonable expectation of whether the route they're following takes one year, 4 years, or 20 years.
    • Also implicit is an understanding that they're *leading* us down the path, not directing us.  That requires consent and confidence, and an ability to rally support even when (especially when) it feels like everyone is turning on you.
 I'll start with the ideal.  I think both Sanders and Clinton want to move us to a better place.  I think Sanders' ideal is in many ways preferable, we'd be better off with stronger social insurance and investments in education.  But I think Clinton's ideal isn't bad either, particularly on foreign policy.  I think Sanders ideal their is a United States that stays home, while Clinton's ideal is a strong global leader capable of effectively confronting global challenges.  Those challenges include climate change and trade relations as much as they do military conflicts.

Next let's look at their grasp of the real.  Here Clinton is overwhelmingly better.  I think Sanders reduces everything to a Manichean dichotomy of good guys and bad guys.  Why is the health care system the way it is?  Bad guys did it!  Why is there massive economic inequality?  Bad guys did it!  Why have Republicans dominated Congress for most of the last 20 years, and control most state governments?  Bad guys did it!  I think what Sanders dismisses as mere moderation is a view of the world which recognizes that truth may be complicated.  

I think Clinton has a much better grasp of why things are the way they are because she's more conscious of history, and how things change with time.  Women's rights are an obvious example, women today have far greater opportunities than they did when she was young.  In addition, she played a direct role in shaping history in some pretty important ways.  Health care reform isn't an abstraction to her, she knows what it's like to try developing and passing a national program and she knows how hard it is to push the status quo.

Now we get to route, and Sanders' biggest deficit against Clinton.  As far as I can tell, his plan for every issue consists of:
  • Everyone will share my values, and therefore
  • Everyone will do exactly what I want, and
  • Anyone who does otherwise is a bad guy and will be politically neutralized by my blindingly obvious rightness and goodness.  (not only does Sanders reduce the world to good guys and bad guys, he doesn't put much thought into why the bad guys win so often)
For Clinton, I'd guess her domestic policy would be focused on stopping the Republican Congress from doing harm and helping Democrats win votes next time around, with her most important action being good picks for the courts (and getting them approved).  I think we'd see a stronger foreign policy, particularly on climate change, because that's where there's more leeway.  Those are modest steps, but they're oriented towards a better place than where we are now, they're achievable, and they're progress.   

I have no idea what a President Sanders would do, because I don't think any of his ideas work.  What do you expect of someone who promises to build a ladder to the moon?  Pretty much anything but a ladder to the moon.  That said, go back to what I said at the beginning about filtering and electability.  There's a lot I dislike about Sanders, but I'd vote for him (happily) if he were the Democratic nominee.