Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thoughts on electing better politicians

Adapted from a conversation I had earlier with a friend, Sarah.
I would thoroughly enjoy it if at least one debate in every campaign had a "bull buzzer", where every time a candidate didn't give a straight answer, they'd get buzzed out. Whoever had the least number of buzzes wins the debate, for the purposes of reporting who won the debate in the media.  By straight answer, I mean a direct answer to the question. Factual incorrectness is less of an issue, because when politicians say things that are factually incorrect, they get skewered (not unjustly, I'm just saying that's not quite the same scope of problem... look at Napolitano's statement and the reaction after the Christmas day terrorism plot.)
Admittedly, as Sarah points out, this isn't the case all of the time ("Have you seen those ads that say 'senator so-and-so voted for nuclear war' or something outrageous like that? They take tiny portions of a bill and spin them to be something they're not. Happens allll the time")
To which I would respond that the problem with buzzing that type of statement is that those are often inherently subjective along partisan lines,  whereas when "What will you do about the economy?" draws a response of "The American people possess willpower and hearts of gold. I'm going to channel the spirit of the entrepreneur and call down the heavens to lift our economy upwards and onwards," this clearly deserves the bull buzzer, even if we like the candidate. Same with "What are you going to do about health care?" "We're going to bend the cost curve downward and make sure that every American can get quality care".... thanks for that inspiring remark?

 That is all I heard in every presidential debate this year, because nobody wants to say the truth cuz everything is unpopular. However, we need to hear those answers when electing people.
Which brings me to a more real strategy for good-hearted, smart politicians:
If I were a politician with a soul, and a desire to debate issues, instead of just a stuffed suit with a desire to win, I would write sample bills during the campaign for the two or three biggest issues I want to run on, and then proceed to hammer the living heck out of my opponent for being a wishy-washy, weak, unprincipled flip-flopper who's unwilling to take a stand. One would hope his or her response would be a bill of his or her own. It doesn't even matter if the bill is feasible. We all know bills are subject to compromise and debate. At least this gets a real view out there and gives Americans a sense of what their politician is ideally going to be fighting for. Then you can debate issues instead of "Who has the better speaking voice and more charisma?"
This could actually change the tenor of elections substantially. I guarantee Sarah Palin would not have been selected as the Republican nominee for VP if McCain's strategists knew she'd have to do that. Because Hillary is more centrist than Obama, I'd also bet that race would have been even closer, because Obama would have been forced to either debate issues secondary to his agenda (and look like a massive liar if he didn't attack those first), or debate issues on which his agenda borders on (or is) socialist. While Hillary isn't exempt from this problem, it's less of a big deal for her.
You'd also likely see a convergence to key issues - who wants to see their opponent have a huge immigration plan and you having no response?
The big concern is that politicians would simply avoid hot-button issues completely, in a sort of game-theoretic collusive manner. That does leave the door open for third-party candidates to attack that issue, though, so perhaps that's a good, not a bad.

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