The Defining Issue of the 2012 Presidential Race?
Amy E. Black is associate professor of political science and chair of the department of politics and international relations at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Forecasting election outcomes is dangerous business, but I can make one prediction with reasonable certainty: Whomever we elect President next year will face significant challenges on at least one political issue that affects millions of lives and costs billions of government dollars, yet no one will debate it in the course of the presidential campaign.
In the buildup to the 2000 election, who could have predicted that the person elected President would face three coordinated terrorist attacks on our own soil and lead the nation into its longest war? As we prepared to vote in 2008, few expected that uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East would topple autocratic regimes and threaten several others.
As we evaluate the 2012 presidential candidates, we should think first and foremost about choosing the person we trust most to make wise decisions on whatever broad range of issues will come his or her way. We should choose the candidate who demonstrates the best judgment.
Every official campaign publication, every public speech by the candidate and his or her representatives, every utterance, however scripted or off-the-cuff, is significant. All of these communications explicitly or implicitly receive the candidate's approval and reveal aspects of his or her character. We expect rhetoric will be hard-hitting and tough, but we should also expect it to be accurate and fair. Those who are quick to distort and skirt the edge of the truth publicly are even less likely to make wise choices when no one appears to be looking.
It is always a great challenge to discern the difference between genuine expression and calculated pandering. One way that may help minimize distortions is to consider the totality of the evidence. Evaluate the campaign as a whole by asking questions such as: What are the central themes? What kind of tone does the campaign set? What messages are repeated consistently?
Words are easy to script, but actions are not. Look to the candidates' actions over many years and see what patterns emerge. Is the candidate loyal and a person who engenders loyalty in followers? Do you see someone willing to admit mistakes and learn from them? After leaving jobs or positions, does the candidate appear to have left people and places better able to thrive, or do you see evidence of destruction in his or her wake?
After considering all of the evidence, ask one final question: If your life or the lives of those you love most were in peril, whom would you instinctively trust to respond with wisdom and grace?
We entrust the President with thousands of decisions over the next four years that will affect our lives and those of hundreds of millions of others. A wide range of domestic and international issues will enter and exit the spotlight during the President's term. For a decision of this significance, wise judgment is the issue that matters most.
Chris Seiple is president of the Institute for Global Engagement and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Standard & Poor's July downgrade of America's credit rating stated the simple and stark truth: The emperor is naked and can't afford clothes. The fact that Republicans and Democrats reacted to the downgrade by pointing fingers at each other again, rather than taking responsibility, confirmed that this country's government has been unaccountable to its citizens, the world, and God.