Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, August 25, 2011 7:58 pm

How to choose a president

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:58 pm

Steve Benen offers something important for Americans to think about that too many Americans don’t think about:

The president, no matter who he or she is, has an enormous amount of responsibilities, but writing public school science curricula isn’t on the list.

But I think this misses the point. Put it this way: what are a president’s principal tasks in office? Aside from setting agendas, giving speeches, attending countless meetings, ceremonial responsibilities, fundraising, etc., a president is tasked with making a lot of decisions. Invariably, they’re tough calls — they have to be, since easier decisions are made elsewhere in the executive branch bureaucracy.

In order to make these tough calls, a president will be presented with a fair amount of information. If we’ve elected a capable person, he or she will evaluate that information well, exercise good judgment, and make a wise choice.

What does this have to do with science? Everything. Rick Perry is aware of the scientific consensus on modern biology, but he rejects it. He realizes what climate scientists have concluded about global warming, but he rejects them, too. What this tell us is that Perry, whatever his strengths may be, isn’t especially good at evaluating evidence. On the contrary, by choosing to believe nonsense after being confronted with reality, he’s apparently lousy at it.

And since most of what a president does all day is evaluate evidence and (hopefully) reach sensible conclusions, Perry’s hostility towards reason and facts offers a hint about what kind of leader he’d be if elected.

Consider another example. Perry was fielding questions from a Texas journalist who asked why Texas has abstinence-only education, despite the fact that the state has the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country. Perry replied, “Abstinence works.” The journalist, perhaps wondering if Perry misunderstood the question, tried again, saying abstinence-only “doesn’t seem to be working.” The governor replied, “It — it works.”

This isn’t akin to flubbing a pop quiz on the basics of modern science. I don’t much care if a political figure has never seen a periodic table or struggles to understand how tides work. The point here is that Rick Perry seems unable to think empirically and weigh the value of evidence before reaching a conclusion.

Are these qualities relevant to a presidential candidate? I believe they are.

First, do no harm. Elections are about politics, but they also are about what politicians do once elected. The United States as a more or less free, democratic republic faces existential challenges in the forms of (to name but a few) global climate change; long-term, severe unemployment; dwindling energy resources; a government culture of excessive surveillance; and rampant lawlessness at the highest levels of society. I do not realistically expect a politician to solve all those problems. But I do expect him to be smart and attentive enough to avoid decisions that would make those problems worse.

That ain’t Rick Perry. That ain’t Michele Bachmann. On at least some issues, it ain’t Mitt Romney. And on economic issues, government surveillance and rampant high-level lawlessness, it ain’t Barack Obama.

People wonder why I hate politics. I don’t, but I do hate me some stupid.


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: