I know that you are probably drowning in political ads, posts, and articles (but I hope you aren't drowning in Hurricane Sandy!). I'm sure you have a million voices telling you how to pick a certain candidate, but if you can stand it, I'd like to offer you one more possible way to evaluate the candidates. I'd like to tell you about how I evaluate political candidates....not that my way is the best way, but it is a way that you may not have considered, and I hope it might be somewhat helpful to you. Evaluating a Candidate's Worldview
It seems to me that campaign promises are never as easy to keep as we would like. Policies get watered down by opponents, and decisions must be made on the fly in response to sudden events. As a result, it seems to me that we cannot ever be certain about what politicians will accomplish during their terms (not necessarily because they are deceitful people, but mainly just because the circumstances of legislation are unpredictable). Because those campaign promises are so unreliable as predictors of policies to be passed during a term, it seems to me that a more reliable way to predict a candidate's future spur-of-the-moment policy decisions is to start from their worldview. A person's worldview will underscore all of their actions, so I assert that voting for a candidate with an agreeable worldview will more likely ensure that the candidate will enact policies and decisions that support your perspectives.
*What do you think about using a candidate's worldview as a more reliable way to predict their future policy decisions?
How to Determine a Candidate's Worldview
First, however, we need to consider how to determine a candidates worldview, especially given that so much of what a candidate says is carefully scripted to appeal to the greatest number of voters. My approach to this determination is two fold: first, I believe we can get to candidates' worldviews by looking for the underlying assumptions hidden in their scripted statements and second, I believe that we get a glimpse of candidates' worldviews in the unscripted, sometime unintentional, comments that they make to supporters (or bystanders with recording devices). Even these two methods are not fool-proof, but they give us small pieces of the candidates' underlying perspectives, and if we piece these together, I think we have a fairly solid understanding of the worldview that a candidate holds.
* What do you think about this method of determining a candidate's worldview?
The Worldviews of the Presidential Candidates
In this presidential election, (even though the two major candidates seem to articulate their positions using largely the same language) the worldviews of the two major candidates seem radically different. While they both agree that we need to balance the budget, improve education, keep Americans safe, and grow the economy, the way they approach those issues are telling of their worldviews.
Romney has stated that he believes that economic liberalism and free market capitalism are fair and yield the best products. He has asserted his belief that only the private sector (re: economic competition) will be able to lower costs and improve products. His policies demonstrate that he believes that wealthy people have worked hard to earn their wealth, and that they therefore deserve to keep it. He believes that everyone should work hard pursuing their own interests and that people who do work hard will succeed. His policies also suggest that he believes that each person only deserves what they have worked for (re: no entitlements). So if we piece together those policies, we can first conclude that in his worldview everyone has equal ability to and probability of succeeding in the world. Second, given Romney's policies and unscripted comments about other social issues, we can conclude that his worldview includes that the Christian God has commanded certain principals that should never be violated and furthermore that those divine commands should translated into civil law. From what I can piece together, that seems to be his worldview.
*Do you agree or disagree with this characterization of Romney's worldview?
So, let's analyze that worldview.
At first, a worldview based on the equality of all individuals and on legislating the morality of Christianity might seem like a good way to bring fairness and morality into our complicated world. With further analysis, however, I think we will be forced to conclude that this worldview is actually ethically problematic and in fact dangerous. Let me explain.
First, regarding Romney's assumptions about the equality of all people, as I demonstrated in my post about the two definitions of equality, while we (feminists, but also ethicists) must assert that all people have equality of worth, we must also assert that all people have not had and still do not have equal access to resources. In that post, I also claimed that to forget the second claim is tantamount to denying the first one. [To review: if we deny that poor people (or people with mental illness, etc.) have had limited access to resources, then we expect them to perform at the level of people with access to lots of resources, and when they can't, we assume that they are lazy and therefore deserve their plight of poverty....which amounts to denying that their lives are worth as much as the lives of the rich/successful.] In light of that, I believe that we must conclude that economic liberalism and free market capitalism (which are built on the assumption that each individual has equal resources and equal ability to succeed in society) are systems which deny that all people are equal in worth. Denying that all people are equal in worth seems extremely problematic to me, and for this reason, I must conclude that Romney's worldview is ethical problematic.
Second, Romney's worldview is that it is good to legislate Christian morality, and I believe we must conclude that such a view is dangerous. Romney takes from Christianity views about same-sex marriage, about abortion, and about a number of other social issues. Taking views on those issues from religion is just fine for any individual (even the president); however, taking views from religion and then trying to make them into civil law is nothing more than forcing one's religious tenants onto people who are outside that religion. For example, we would be appalled if someone suggested that Kosher laws be built into the American legal system. And outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage are the same thing. If an individual religious person believes those two issues are wrong, I believe that is unfortunate, but we must accept that a person has a right to those views (as long as those views do not take the form of hate speech or violence). However, if that person seeks to make his personal religious beliefs about those issues into law, that seems to me to be oppressive and dangerous....not to mention that it goes against the American commitment to the separation of church and state. Here is an article that pretty starkly explains this.
*What do you think about these critiques of Romney's worldview? Do you agree that these two aspects of his worldview are ethical problematic and dangerous? Why or why not?
Because Romney holds that worldview, even though I agree with a few of his policies, I can only conclude that his future decisions would be (or at least would probably be) ethical problematic and dangerous in the ways I have outlined above.
Now let's look the other major candidate's policies and unscripted comments to see if we can determine his worldview.
First, he acknowledges that poor people are poor, not because they haven't worked hard, but because they have been denied access to the resources (whether educational, monetary, physical, or psychological) necessary for success. His policies also demonstrate that he believers that society should try to make amends for that unequal access to resources; his policies have supported the idea that help needs to be provided to people (because society has failed them in the past and owes them rectification for that failure). Furthermore, his policies demonstrate that this help needs to be provided to people even when we know that some people will abuse the system. Because of these policies, it seems to me that Obama's worldview is built on asserting that people are equal in worth AND that they have not and do not have equal access to resources.
Secondly, Obama's (and Biden's) perspective is that individuals may hold religious beliefs (and may believe that certain actions or behaviors are wrong) but that those religious beliefs should never be made into law. Biden's comments in the VP debate about abortion demonstrated exactly this distinction. While he personally believes that abortion is wrong, he understands that abortions cannot be outlawed. He understands that he cannot and should not use his power to make his religious beliefs into secular laws. He understands the danger in forcing those outside his religion to follow his religion's tenants. In this way, these men demonstrate that they understand that practicing Jews are perfectly able to follow Kosher laws, but that all Americans should not be required to follow those laws. Acknowledging and upholding this distinction between religious beliefs and secular laws is telling of a worldview that embraces and nurtures diversity, which I believe is a critically important approach to governing.
*What do you think of this characterization of Obama's worldview? Would you characterize his worldview differently? What critiques do you have of Obama's worldview?
It is not that I agree with every one of Obama's policies or decision, definitely not. However, given that his worldview seems t to be based on real equality and respect for diversity, I feel compelled to support him.
Two Conflicting Worldviews and the Future of American Politics
Seeing and analyzing these two different worldviews seems to me to very important, not only for this election but for the future of our country. It seems to me that people are building philosophical structures to explain every aspect of society based on these two worldviews. And, alarmingly, I believe these two worldviews are growing further away from each other.... which does not make me hopeful about the possibility for future political collaboration.
*Do you see two radically different worldviews undergriding the policies, decisions, and statements for the two major presidential candidates (or even the two major parties)? If so, do you feel that the gap between these two worldviews is widening? Are you alarmed by that? If not, how do you conceptualize the radically different approaches taken by the two candidates?
As always, thank you so much for reading, and please do join the conversation!