Huckabee, McCain, and Romney: Honest Politics?

By Daniel Kay
During the past two week in the Republican race there has been an increased focus on honesty. McCain’s integrity has been called into question. The allegations are not of interest here, but his claim that he did not make contact with The New York Times over the story when in fact he had is. Is McCain a liar? Also, Huckabee charged Romney with running a ‘dishonest’ campaign. Very interesting considering he continues to tell voters he only had 71/2 hours before reporters where hounding him for comment on the NIE report when in fact the report had been front page news for 30 hours before he was questioned. Is Huckabee throwing stones in a glass house?

Some voters call the practice of politicking flat-out ‘lying.’ Though a popular and pessimistic view, the idea that all politicians are liars is rarely held by political advocates and avid voters. Holding this view will affect voter’s behavior to either fail/refuse to vote or place greater emphasis on the nominee’s record as an elected official to determine the vote. The former may account significantly to the low voter turnout year after year in America. The latter approach will rarely lead to disappoint if the nominee is elected. As psychologists say, “the best predictor of behavior is past behavior.” I agree. The best predictor of what a nominee will do if elected is what he has done in office before. Voters with this approach have little need to hear a politician’s current platform or promises, as they are most likely lies.

Other voters rely entirely on the politician’s word and platform. To do so they create an arbitrary line between dishonesty and politicking. Voters with this subjective dichotomy rely on the media, special interest groups and other candidates to expose the truth. Because these sources of information endorse candidates and are unquestionably biased, this is a rather naive voting approach. It gives biased sources of information undue control over these voters choice. Moreover, once voters determine that a candidate is ‘honest,’ they then must believe the promises that the candidate may or may not be able to achieve if elected. While a candidate may be honestly in favor of doing all the things you would like to see happen in office, only the politician’s record can determine if the candidate is capable. A candidate that does not have a record of lowering taxes may honestly support lowering taxes but be incompetent to do so. I question the judgment of someone that would vote for an honest candidate that honestly opposes the voter’s views over a so-called ‘dishonest’ candidate that has a record and a platform in favor of the voter’s political views. Perhaps there is a line between lying and politicking, unfortunately, there is no political code of honor which spells out this line. Ultimately, it is difficult perhaps impossible to definitively say that one politician is either dishonest or honest. Regrettably, the most ‘honest’ candidate is bound to be the one with the most media outlets painting him so. It is not suppressing to me that the most honest candidate in New Hampshire also has the majority of media endorsements in the state, both liberal and conservative.

Still others voters say, “all is fair in love, war and politics.” This view relies on the greater good argument. If a voter believes that their candidate is the best for the job, many expect their candidate to do what it takes to get elected. They support a candidate to win and to employ political tactics to achieve victory. They demand their candidate to say things in a ways that will have the most impact and get the most votes. Unfortunately, this requires the politician to push the limits of verbal language, employ arbitrary meanings, and leave much to the interpretation of others. These techniques have become quintessential to winning in US political arena and being successful as a politician. Right or wrong, this is the view that has dominated American political, social and religious thought for decades. Pundits that oppose Communism, Radical Islam, Mormonism, and Environmentalism justify bending of truth by an appeal to the greater good.

Each candidate selection approach has some value. Ultimately, however, most people employ a pragmatic selection approach which involves the interplay of all three approaches. I tend to believe that most politicians are not strait talker for a reason: it doesn’t work against politicians skilled at saying things the most politically appropriate. The absence of ‘strait talk’ does not necessarily mean that the politician is a liar. Certainly, being a strait talker is not sufficient for my vote and I am not sure it is even desirable in a candidate. I will vote for a so-called ‘dishonest’ person with an official record of supporting my view (this does not include platform record) over an ‘honest’ politician that has an honest record of opposing my political views. Moreover, I would vote for a ‘dishonest’ politician with the proven capability and record to do what he currently says he will do over an ‘honest’ politician that has a record that suggest he has little capability to do what he is promising. And like most, I am more lenient on the extent to which my candidate employs politicking for what I see as the greater good, than I am to another candidate.

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