Personality or Ideology: Which matters most in a political leader?

by Emrys Westacott

In evaluating candidates for political office there are two main things to consider:

a) their ideology–that is, their political views and general philosophy

b) their personal qualities

With respect to ideology, the most important questions one should ask are these:

· Are their beliefs true? (Do they hold correct beliefs on, say, climate change, or on whether a particular policy will increase or reduce poverty, crime, unemployment, pollution, or the likelihood of war?)

· Do I share their values and ideals? (E.g. Are they willing to sacrifice economic growth for the sake of environmental protection (or vice versa)? Where do they stand on issues like gun control, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, foreign aid, gay rights, or economic inequality?)

· Whose interests do they represent? (Do they generally favor policies that benefit the rich, the middle class, the poor, employers or workers, corporations or consumers, cities or rural communities?)

Regarding personal qualities, the ones that matter most are:

· knowledge – Are they decently informed about the world and the issues they will be dealing with

· intelligence – Are they able to understand and think through complex problems

· wisdom – Are they reasonable? Do they exercise good judgment?

· effectiveness – Do they have the practical skills to realize their goals?

· integrity – Are they truthful? Is what they do consistent with what they say? Are they motivated by a concern for the public good rather than by self-interest?

These personal qualities obviously cannot be possessed absolutely but only to a greater or lesser degree. And they may often conflict. Most politicians who are effective sometimes have to compromise their integrity, and the first compromise is invariably made before they hold office. As the historian George Hopkins (emeritus professor at Western Illinois university) has observed, “all presidents lie for the simple reason that if they didn't, we wouldn't elect them.” A candidate who was perfectly truthful would be ineffective because they would probably never get the chance to implement any of their ideas.

Effective governance may also require leaders to lie, mislead, hide the truth, and break promises. Franklin Roosevelt was by any account a highly effective president; but in the two years prior to Pearl Harbor, he consistently told the American public that he was fully committed to keeping the US out of any foreign wars while simultaneously, and secretly, preparing the country for war against Japan and Germany. The political leaders we are most inclined to venerate are those like Lincoln or Mandela who, in addition to possessing the other qualities listed above, somehow mange to be practically effective with minimum loss of integrity.

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Are We Witnessing a Major Shift in America’s Two-Party System?

by Akim Reinhardt

DemublicansIn the 150 years since the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Republicans and Democrats have maintained a relentless stranglehold on every level of American politics nearly everywhere at all times. While a handful of upstart third parties and independent candidates have periodically made waves, none has ever come close to capturing the White House, or earned more than a brief smattering of Congressional seats. Likewise, nearly ever state and local government has remained under the duopoly's exclusive domain.

Why a duopoly? Probably because of they way the U.S. electoral system is structured. Duverger's Law tells us that a two-party duopoly is the very likely outcome when each voter gets one vote and can cast it for just one candidate to determine a single legislative seat.

However, in order to maintain absolute control of American politics and fend off challenges from pesky third parties, the Democrats and Republicans needed to remain somewhat agile. The times change, and in the endless quest to crest 50%, the parties must change with them.

Since the Civil War, both parties have shown themselves flexible enough to roll with the changes. The Civil War, the Great Depression, and Civil Rights era each upended the political landscape, leading political constituencies to shift, and forcing the Democrats and Republicans to substantially and permanently reorient themselves.

Now, several decades removed from the last major reshuffling of the two major parties, we may be witnessing yet another major transformation of the duopoly as the elephant and the donkey struggle to remain relevant amid important social changes. The convulsions of such a shift are reflected in the tumultuous spectacle of the parties' presidential nomination processes.

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