Assessing Candidates During the Age of Spin

by Dr. David Gruder

I was just asked during one of my many radio interviews whether I think that politicans will ever stop spinning & lying.

I replied that as long as the American public tolerates spin and believes lies that of course politicians will continue to use these tactics.

We live in an Age of Spin. My radio host today rightly pointed out how commonplace it is for everyday people to use spin to get jobs, to woo the opposite sex, to get their children to do what they want, and so on.

As long as individual citizens remain willing to use spin in place of integrity, and as long as politicians remain too cowardly to set a new standard for the public, and as long as the media indulges pontificating ideologically addicted pundits in place of providing the public with a true education about the issues, of course the vast challenges we face today will remain unresolved.

As long as the press orchestrates, and citizens tolerate, spin matches during political debates in place of requiring true and substantive debate, our election process and political system will remain the complete mess that it has become. It’s enough to make the Founding Fathers of the United States roll over in their graves.

But, there is a solution. I began to write about it in my last blog post. The solution is for the New Silent Majority to finally mobilize and exerting its immense potential power to start demanding education, transparency and responsibility from political candidates and leaders from across the entire political spectrum.

More about that in a future post. Between now and when the New Silent Majority is mobilized, here are two things that every citizen can start doing right now about this problem in terms of deciding who to support for our next president:

  1. Stop trying to figure out politicians’ positions on the issues! Stop believing the politicians and stop believing the pundits. Give up the ghost. Forget about even trying. Make peace with your inability to truly asses politician positions during political campaigns. Whatever you — or your favorite pundits (both their supporters and detractors!) — think their position is will most likely change once they are in office anyway. Forget about trying to solve this puzzle.
  2. Start focusing on leadership traits that are much easier to evaluate! Despite the spin that the candidates’ handlers, the pundits and the Democratic and Republican National Committees would like you to believe about what makes a good leader, here is a short list of crucial leadership skills that YOU can assess for yourself if you’re just willing to pay attention:
  • CEO Abilities: Long gone is the time when a president can know enough about all of the issues to be a well-rounded expert. Today’s presidents must be effective CEOs in order to be effective presidents. Candidates for president of the US must create and oversee vast campaign organizations. Paying attention to how how candidates run their organization is the best way citizens can evaluate a candidate’s CEO abilities. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:
    • How ethical and effective is the organization at putting forth complete and consistent messages about their candidate’s positions? The more you see this, the more effective as a CEO the candidate probably is. (Again, forget about what the position supposedly is — look instead at how well a candidate’s campaign articulates the candidate’s core vision and sticks to that vision even as positions on individual issues and policies change seemingly from day to day.)
    • How good is the candidate at selecting staff people for the current campaign? How competent are the staff people that the candidate chooses to surround him/herself with? How much does the candidate’s staff represent diverse views? How much staff in-fighting and power struggles over positions or tactics do you detect? The more you see this sort of dynamic the weaker the candidate’s ability to select advisors and cabinet members is likely to be.
    • How much turnover of top staff people does a candidate’s orgnization go through? The less turnover there is, the more a candidate is likely to be capable of creating consistency as a CEO. (When turnover does occur look closely at whether the reason has anything to do with in-fighting or ethics lapses.)
    • How effective is the organization at effectively raising whatever amount of funds they need, and at putting that money to good use? A candidate who can create a campaign organization that is strong with both of these financial skills is likely a strong CEO.
    • What kind of tone does the candidate’s organization project regarding the other candidate and regarding those whose views are different from the candidate’s own? Is it consistently attacking, consistently respectful or some confusing blend of the two? The more embracing and less divisive a tone a candidate’s organization can effectively project, the more likely it is that the candidate will make an effective CEO.
  • Ability as an Educator: We live in an age in which spin has replaced education. Because of this we need more desperately than ever to elect politicians, especially presidents, who excel at being good educators rather than effective spin doctors. How effective is this candidate at conveying his/her core vision, the underlying rational behind his/her views, his/her understanding of the issues, and his/her strategies for facilitating solutions to the issues that go far beyond attempts to control the symptoms? Again, forget about the extent to which you agree with the candidate’s supposed position. Look instead at their ability to provide truly enlightening perspectives as well as provide meaningful insights about the complexities of the issues. This is what will tell you how good an educator the candidate is likely to be when president
  • Ability to Preserve & Defend the Constitution: It is absolutely vital that citizens and voters understand that the United States was created to be a republic whose democratic processes integrate the seeming paradoxes between individual freedom and the common good. Our consitution assumes that in order for the United States to be strong and healthy our policies must live at the intersection of individual freedom and the common good. Anyone — politicians, pundits, clergy or friends — who advocate for one of these dimensions over the other is trying to re-write the constitution to serve his or her own ideology, not to serve our country. Listen carefully to what each candidate says about his/her own core constitutional vision — not what the pundits and pontificators say, regardless of whether they are supporters, detractors or allegedly neutral. Listen to the candidate’s own words to determine for yourself how clear they are about their responsibility to function as president at the intersection of individual freedom and the common good.

Evaluating these three core qualities (CEO ability, gifts as an educator, and clarity about being obligated to preserve both individual freedom and the common good) is a psychologically powerful way to cut through to what really matters when evaluating a candidate during the Age of Spin.

Demanding these three core qualities in the candidates of whichever political party you support — candidates for all national, state and local positions — as well as candidates for non-partisan political positions — is part of what the New Silent Majority can do to replace the Age of Spin with an Era of Integrity.

Similarly, evaluating state propositions and potential law changes in terms of the extent to which you believe they succeed at integrating individual freedom and the common good is a powerful way to decide whether to vote for or against these measures without becoming lost in the spin.

If not you, who? If not now, when?

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