Friday, June 10, 2011
The Reasonable Person Standard in Politics
I was once told by a wise lawyer that to determine if a person was at fault in a crime, one to ask the basic question: What would a reasonable person do in this instance? Thus, standard is formed for the law to follow whereby a conceptual "reasonable person" exists to apply a law. I wonder if the same standard can apply to politics?
Let me explain. Beyond what the pundits and pollsters determine to be what the average American believes, usually it leans towards one side or another depending on the news channel or newspaper, I think it is safe to say that no human being is defined by one party ideology or another. Only entertaining news analysts do this to, well, energize the public. It helps that ratings create an incentive to be vitriolic. Most Americans probably hold some liberal beliefs and some conservative beliefs, I certainly do. Now, that is not to say that I am a "moderate" or a "centrist" in the traditional sense of the term. On the contrary, I lean more liberal in my views.
You see, there are two types of liberals and two types of conservatives. There are MSNBC liberals who are rabid, and only tote the party line because they feel obligated to do so. Then, there are the NPR liberals, who are quite, tame, and nuanced in their demeanor. Certainly, everyone can agree that there is a definite tone difference between The Ed Show and All Things Considered. The latter category is where I put myself. On the other side, there are the Fox News conservatives and the National Review conservatives, one is more pugnacious and the other more thought provoking.
Putting aside those people who lye on the fringes, not to say their bad people I just do not think they represent the whole chunk of the U.S. politically, the people who will decide the election are those who are the nuanced thinking part of society. If you apply this standard to presidential politics, you wonder what the "reasonable person" would choose? He will most likely pick the politician who, no matter what party, acts rational with a willingness to compromise. The political figure should look presidential and capable to guide the country through rough times. Most importantly, this person will not buy the all promises of that particular candidate, who they know is just trying to appease their party. Rather, a "reasonable person" knows that once the candidate gets into office their proposals will be compromising and moderated to fit the congress he is given.
Take President Obama. During the election, he had soaring rhetoric renouncing the Bush era policies and promised the liberal policies of healthcare reform, education reform, and environmental reform that his base craved. At the same time, he was a cerebral man who knew that he would need to move towards the center in his actions. If you do not believe me, read The Audacity of Hope again to understand what I am talking about. Even before president Obama, candidate Bush was seen as a moderate Republican governor of Texas who was against Nation building in the Balkans and was not a big government conservative.
It turns out, once you get into office, you must tone down your rhetoric and think a bit more practically. This includes disavowing your previous statements. Obama adopted the GOP's old healthcare plan, despite what they say now and Bush supported two efforts of nation building and big government reforms. Clinton was forced to "triangulate" his way through the Republican controlled congress. Reagan passed a stimulus to put umph into Reaganomics. The electorate picks in moderation and presidents act in moderation. Many will disagree with me on this point, depending on your definition of right and left, but I think voters are smart enough to see through the facade of presidential promises, to an extent.
In this world, is a President Romney really that different from a President Obama? Or a President Pawlenty? Both Romney and Pawlenty, unless Rick Perry jumps in, are the most likely candidate for the GOP nomination. The other candidates are just funny sideshows. Both Romney and Pawlenty will act all tough and Republican-like during the campaign, but in the end they will support more center-right proposals with the Democrats in power. In the end, Obama did not repeal most of the Bush era policies liberals despised, and the next GOP president will have the same amount of luck repealing any of Obama's bills they believe are "Destroying America."
Really, when American politics is broken down this way, the results are pretty disappointing. If pundits talked about politics this way, the shows would thrill the audience about as much as golf on television does. Although, if you apply the "reasonable person standard" politics seems a lot less scary.
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