Assessing US Elections Part V: Evaluating Presidential Candidates
Previously published on May 26, 2010
With the 2008 Presidential election a distant memory, the 2010 midterm election will quickly give way to the 2012 Presidential election season. The question for now is not who will win, but rather, how do we select the best possible candidates. The first ingredient we need is quality information that has not been thoroughly skewed by the source's bias. For this, constant streams of information from various news outlets offer a solution. Between the local news, the national news, and 24/7 news stations, such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox, voters can acquire massive amounts of current data in order to mitigate the bias of individual news outlets; however, less biased and in-depth analysis comes from organizations like the BBC and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. Watching these programs will not necessarily tell you what candidate is best, but it will show you how to process the data that comes from the various campaigns so you can fairly assess that information, thus improving your ability to make a quality decision.
On the other hand, information is not enough to understand how a candidate will react in a given situation after being elected. Coincidentally, the most useful aspect of human behavior is that it is not random. The things we do are a result of our interactions with our environment, including other people, and our personal history. This means that when we consume a piece of information our experiences help shape how we interpret, analyze, and, ultimately, react to that information. Another great aspect of human thinking is that we automatically categorize information. As such, how we categorize information determines how we will react to that information and new information. In order to capitalize on these traits, we can utilize a concept known as framing; a great read on how politicians frame issues is "Don't think of an elephant" by George Lakoff who has helped introduce the term to the general public.
Framing allows an individual to categorize a group of issues and deal with them in a consistent and straightforward means. Although in recent years Democrats have learned to use framing in their campaigns, Republicans have long used a form of framing to hold onto power, yet voters can also use framing to predict how successful a politician will be as a leader. Normally, free trade agreements, for example, would be framed as economic issues. Unfortunately, during the Cold War era many politicians framed free trade agreements as national security issues, thus they treated free trade as a means of combating the Soviet Union. Accordingly, our country has made many "free trade agreements" that are not truly free trade agreements. Then again, other issues can often be successfully crossed framed into more than one category. If the primary framing is done improperly, however, the given issues will be addressed inappropriately as mis-framing will completely invalidate the whole process.
In search of a more perfect union, I utility three very board categories that can encompass all the issues that a President, or any leader, will have to deal with. Incidentally, George W. failed in all three when he was first running for President, and, in my opinion, he continued to do so while Barack Obama did reasonability well after analyzing his more balanced stances on various issues. Since our world has grown ever more connected while, with most of our threats coming from non-state based terrorist networks, the capacity to buildup relationships with other nations through foreign policy and action is essential to a President's resume, so foreign policy is our first frame. Next, the economy drives our way of life from jobs to education, from health care to environment, from investments to groceries, and housing to vacation, so the ability to understand and work within the economic frame is paramount. Last, our government has a responsibility to balance our rights and freedoms with our national security interests, thus we must frame military, police, and civil rights issues in one group.
Obviously, these frames must contain many, many subcategories, which I have failed to mention in this article, in order to address every political issue out there, but all issues can fit into one or more of these categories. If a candidate's views adequately address these broadly framed groups of issues, it is more likely that the candidate will be able to effectively deal with these issues. In addition, it means the candidates and the voters will more likely understand the issues and there solutions from the same perspective. Of course, there are many instances where a candidate's views on a single issue conflict with a voter's opinion. As such, framing enables a voter to better assess the sum of the candidates' views to more accurately determine which individual would make a better President. After all, no President deals with a single issue throughout his, or her, presidency. Moreover, framing allows the voter to develop a more informed, judicious opinion of Presidential hopefuls.