The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and qualifications for the Presidency

The Washington Examiner carries a regular column by Byron York, who, like many of the Examiner's columnists, tends to be a little more right-wing than me, so sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree. In yesterday's paper I read York's column, which read:

What's wrong with Rick Perry? How did the successful, well-liked, long-term governor of one of America's largest states enter the Republican presidential primary race with great fanfare, zoom to the top of the polls, and then slide almost as quickly back into the pack?

Blaming the Texas governor's problems on a lackluster debating style — as Perry himself has done after a number of poor performances — answers only part of the question. Yes, debates are particularly important this campaign season. But debates are more than just style and popularity contests. They reveal deeper things about candidates; voters watching debates can learn not only how a candidate handles tough questions but whether he is really, truly prepared to run for the White House.

Early in Perry's candidacy, there was a spate of stories suggesting he's not smart enough to be president. They weren't subtle; one was headlined “Is Rick Perry Dumb?” But even Perry's critics could look at those stories and say: Here is a man who has successfully governed a large and complex state, presided over prosperity and growth, dealt with the political challenges that go with it all, and won re-election repeatedly. Successful governorships don't just happen by accident; Perry's results in Texas show he is a smart, competent executive.

But the debates have revealed a different problem. The Rick Perry who has taken the stage in four Republican debates so far is a man who, for all his governing success in Texas, appears not to have thought enough about why he wants to be president of the United States and what he would do if he achieved his goal. When critics gently say that Perry's presentations have been “light on details,” they're really saying Perry doesn't seem to have thought things through.

More than anything else, a lot of thinking should precede a run for president. There's no time to think about much of anything once the campaign begins, and there's no way a candidate can collect and organize a lifetime of experiences into a coherent approach to national issues once he's flying from stop to stop. A candidate has to have done his thinking long before he hits the road or steps on a debate stage.

Think back to a different example from a different time. In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Miers was a perfectly fine White House counsel, but she clearly had not spent a lifetime doing the kind of legal thinking that prepares one for the highest court. The White House assured doubters that Miers planned to study really, really hard in preparation for her confirmation hearings.

But it doesn't work that way. Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito didn't have to cram at the last minute for their hearings. Each had a lifetime of experience and thinking at the highest levels of the law, and their task was to organize the knowledge they already had to prepare for confirmation questioning. But the important thing was, the knowledge was there. The thinking had already been done. Miers, on the other hand, wasn't prepared and finally dropped out.

There's no doubt former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has thought a long, long time about being president. Romney can tell you, at any level of generality or detail you want, why he is running and what he would do if he won. He adjusts to new issues and questions by building on all the preparation he's already done.

For Romney, debate preparation involves taking all the things he has already thought through and finding the most effective way to present them in one-minute answers. For Perry, debate preparation is trying to learn new stuff about national issues that he should have been thinking about a long time ago.

It's often pointed out that since Perry entered the Republican race late, on Aug. 13, he had little time to build a campaign organization and hone a campaign pitch. That's true, but the fact is, if Perry wanted to be president, he should have been thinking seriously about the substance of national issues — not just money-raising and state chairmen — years before he declared his candidacy.

Now Perry is paying the price for that lack of preparation. And if that, in fact, is the real problem behind his poor debate performances, then he's not going to improve as a candidate in the next few weeks. It's far too late for that.

I don't think York goes quite far enough. When he says that “[t]here's no doubt former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has thought a long, long time about being president. Romney can tell you, at any level of generality or detail you want, why he is running and what he would do if he won. He adjusts to new issues and questions by building on all the preparation he's already done,” he's conceding, as well, that Romney, if he is elected in November 2012, will be able, right on Jan. 20, 2013, to move into the Presidency, knowing what he wants to do and how and why he wants to do it. Contrast the current occupant of the White House, who let Congress write his health care bill because he wasn't quite sure what he wanted, and who has in general been pretty slow on the uptake in just about any way you can imagine. This is a good reason to elect Romney, not just a reason he will win debates — whether with Perry now or with Obama in 2012.

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