Friday, October 10, 2008

Assess the Man, Not the Plan

Jonah Goldberg has a very fine column today ("The Best Laid Plans..." on how to assess a presidential candidate, and how NOT to. (I am so charmed by his reflections, that I have sent them around to all my students.) Let me tease you into reading it with a few quotes.

Some historians claim that 19th-century Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke, not President Eisenhower, authored the aphorism that no plan survives contact with the enemy....

Even plans to build houses often require countless revisions. But planning for people is so much harder. Every weekend I have a plan for how my one 5-year-old child will spend her day. Keep in mind: I am literally the boss of her. She has no money, little education and no reliable means of escape. And yet, she foils my plans time and again. But somehow we're supposed to believe that a plan involving billions or trillions of dollars, millions of people (each with their own agenda) and thousands of communities influenced by countless interested parties and bureaucracies is not only possible, but the highest responsibility of our elected leaders....

But the point is that it is juvenile to believe that voting for a president is synonymous with holding a referendum on a plan. And yet we have these interminable, often Jesuitical debates on what the fine print of the candidates' plans says.

I am particularly fond of this one:

Even worse, after every debate we are subjected to an endless parade of focused-grouped "swing voters" who think they're oh-so-terribly sophisticated for wanting to hear ever more details about this candidate's plan for education reform or that candidate's scheme for health care. It's all absurd intellectual vanity. These voters are undecided not because they haven't been spoon-fed enough policy detail, but because they haven't been paying attention and haven't bothered to do even minimal research about the candidates.

And he wraps up with:

The real hints for how to choose a candidate, at least in a general election (as opposed to a primary), reside in the realm of judgment, philosophy, track record and temperament. And, using those criteria, the choice shouldn't be hard at all.
Thus, assess the man, not the plan.

Harold adds:

That Jonah Goldberg, he da man.

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