At about this time in every election cycle, campaigns turn negative and we all decry our inability to hold an election without personal attacks. This election has been different; we started negative and have been mired there ever since, in part, because there is so much negative material to talk about and so much of it appears to be very relevant. But how should we decide what is relevant to our decision when we cast our ballots?
My work requires me to face difficult decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes, cases present a choice between two equally bad options or, even worse, equally good options. By far, the most overwhelming cases involve child custody. But if you look at one fact at a time and follow the statute, the right decision starts to come into focus. Utah’s child custody statute gives a list of “best interests” factors that we use to organize the proverbial fire hose of facts presented at trial. Some of these same factors might also help us organize the mass of election information that bombards us now.
These are my adapted “best interests of the country” factors:
1. Conduct and demonstrated moral standards of the candidate.
Why it matters: When you vote for a President, you vote to grant someone immense power. We should evaluate the morality of the candidate to determine whether we can entrust that person with this power.
What to look for: Classical virtues like integrity, courage, work ethic, self control, etc. Whatever you think makes a person moral. But note that rhetoric is not enough, this factor accepts only actions as evidence–the demonstrated moral standards.
2. Willingness to work with the opposing party.
Why it matters: Our government must be able to solve problems. If we fail to elect people that can work together, we deserve the gridlock we currently face in our government.
What to look for: Ability to debate, negotiate, and reach consensus without creating enemies. The overall way a candidate conducts a campaign may be a good place to start. Can the candidate reason with others and be reasoned with?
3. Quality of relationship and shared values.
Why it matters: A country’s government should reflect the people it governs. This is uniquely true of the President because of the responsibility to be the face of our foreign policy falls on the Presidency. The President is a symbol of the country as a whole.
What to look for: Do you agree with the candidate on which issues are important? Do you agree with the candidate’s positions on those issues? Because there are issues that may arise during the candidate’s term that you can’t predict, what do each of the previous questions tell you about the candidate’s core principles? Does the candidate represent your values as an American?
4. Ability to do the job.
Why it matters: Ultimately, a political campaign is just a job interview. An voter/interviewer should therefore understand the job of the President. In a nutshell, the Constitution makes the President: commander in chief of the military, chief diplomat, holder of the appointment power for Supreme Court justices, and head of the entire federal bureaucracy with the particular responsibility to “take care” that the law is enforced. The President fills these roles while working as a co-equal branch of the government along with Congress and the Supreme Court.
What to look for: Ability to fill each role and work with the co-equal branches of government in doing so. Evaluate the people likely to advise the candidate and/or participate in the candidate’s administration. Can this person do the job, based on their expertise and experience?
5. Ability to give first priority to the country’s welfare.
Why it matters: The Presidency necessarily attracts people that are somewhat self-aggrandizing. In this media-centered age, a candidate has to like the spotlight. But we should also be careful not to elect people that are also self-centered. A President must put the country first–before party and certainly before self.
What to look for: Demonstrated sacrifices and the candidate’s rhetoric. Do you believe the candidate will put the country first when making decisions while under the pressure of the office?
No matter who you support, a full analysis of each of these factors will help you organize information into an intelligent, fully informed decision.