Political vetting and the limits of the smooth talkers

Recently I wrote about my favorable impression of a candidate for the U.S. Senate that resulted from a discussion that lasted 90 minutes or so. In the article I used the following sentence that needs more explanation today: “Fortunately he seems a lot more stable – and frankly, normal – than most candidates I’ve met.”

It’s easy for me to imagine the work of personnel professionals who conduct job interviews on a regular basis. While political vetting isn’t quite hiring, a lot of the same weighing and measuring takes place. Is this person who he says he is? Has he accomplished what he claims? Does he understand the arena he enters? Is he really up to the task?

As someone who has been frustrated with the gap between the thinkers and the doers in politics for over twenty years, my first criteria for supporting a candidate is how well they can communicate.

Honestly, though, judgment and character still trump the ability to string sentences together in a meaningful order.

Three Illinois political characters come to my mind as exemplifying almost a perfect combination of ability – and yet cluelessness. One is in office, the second is running for office, and the third runs a political non profit. All three are mostly conservative, and yet serve as examples for why Illinois has been trending “blue” for a number of years.

A lot of people who are slick or skilled talkers generally wind up getting elected or “succeeding” in politics. When I say “succeed” I’m obviously not referring to them successfully engineering the passage of important policy reform legislation or impacting public opinion in laudable fashion. Instead, success most often comes in the form of gaining and holding an office, making a good amount of money, or achieving a level of notoriety as a policy gabber.

One of the individuals has made terrible decisions in his personal and professional life, leaving quite a few folks questioning his character. It’s probably possible to make good political judgments despite that background. But once clear thinking voters learn more about his résumé, they’re going to be very leery of him. And Republicans are sick to death of stupid, avoidable scandals.

Another one of the individuals is among those who still think the GOP should be all economics all the time. When a person admits to being uneasy about discussing the social issues that means they are not ready to play an important role in the public square.

Regular people don’t want to have to discuss issues like abortion or homosexuality. But would-be leaders have a duty to be cognizant of the nature of legalized abortion and the depravity of the so-called “gay rights” movement which seeks to propagandize in the public schools (among other offenses).

You can’t claim to understand abortion or the confusion and misinformation propagated by the radical homosexual community and then be uneasy about speaking the truth. Sorry, but if you’re uneasy, you’re not ready.

A good deal has been written by great thinkers – from ancient Greece through to our founding fathers to modern day scholars – about how economics and morality are inextricably connected. We’ve touched a few points on the topic here under the subheading “On the connection between government, economics and morality.”

The third individual could be the leader Illinois needs but has instead chosen to lose himself in his office and avoid the necessary intramural GOP fight that is underway here in his home state. Since political reform has to come before policy reform, that guy is a big disappointment.

How can one have so much ability and yet fail to use it? In this case, I think it’s because he has achieved relative success early, and now has been on “the inside” for too long and thus no longer sees the world clearly.

If these three guys I’m referring to could see the bigger picture, they’d be able to get beyond probably their largest infirmity, which is, they are really fond of themselves. That usually doesn’t bother me all that much since everyone should have at least one fan. The problem arises when esteem of self gets so high that judgment becomes impaired.

One of the reasons my colleagues and I advocate for “new blood” coming into politics is that it improves the chances of people entering the arena that have the skills which go beyond talk.

Too many people in politics have been able to survive because there is no need to turn a profit, and the only win that counts is their own career track or financial bottom line. Rhetoric commonly referred to by the letters “b.s.” doesn’t typically work as well when customers have to be found and made happy.

A regular complaint coming from this column is the lack of that skill which too often exemplifies Republican politicians. However, in the case of these three, they have that much valued ability in spades. What they don’t have undercuts their effectiveness.