Assessing Character in Politicians

Part of my problem with the arguments I've seen that character is important in political candidates like Roy Moore is that they focus on "our party's" candidate, which is a form of tribalism. Another part is that they seem to separate policy positions from character, as if support for a particular government policy tells us nothing about the character of the politician.

Focusing on the character of "our" candidate but ignoring the character of "their" candidate is tribalist. "Policing our own" is another way to put it, and that is one aspect of tribalism. It means that it's OK to have a wicked one of "them" in office because he or she wouldn't reflect on "us," whereas a wicked one of "us" is unacceptable because he or she would be associated with us and we don't want to be identified with wickedness. (Unless we're from Boston.)

The non-tribal way of treating character as important is to assess the character of all of the candidates by the same criteria. So, when we think about character in the current Alabama senate election, we need to assess the characters of both Roy Moore and Doug Jones and make the decision based on that direct comparison, forgetting the D and R tribes for the moment.

This presents us with another problem I have with recent articles arguing against Moore based on his character: Character cannot be separated from policy positions. Sure, there is a difference, but support for a particular policy is one expression of character. Supporting / opposing racist policies says something about character. Pro-life / pro-choice positions say something about character. Views on the role of government in society say something about character. These positions may be hypocritical, publicly endorsed but privately violated, but that also tells us about character. Policy positions are expressions of character.

The attacks on Moore's character are unproven. Jones's policy positions, which speak to his character, he himself has publicly announced. It's difficult for me to see why treating character as important leads to voting for Jones, who endorses what I consider to be infanticide and tyranny. That doesn't absolve Moore, but it does take character into serious consideration. Separating policy positions from considerations of character does not.

This kind of "policing our own" tribalism and the bizarre attempt to ignore the implications of policy positions for character weaken the arguments against Moore in my mind.


Ymarsakar said...

Novus ordo seclorum will control all the tribes, whether the tribes like it or not.

Grim said...

Bearing in mind that I am at least officially a Democrat, so I'm doing the opposite of what you're warning against: I'm attempting to police both parties, not tribally asserting that Republicans aren't my problem.

I've explained my views on abortion in great detail here from time to time, so you know where I stand on that.

Grim said...

By the same token, too, Keillor isn't 'one of mine' or one of yours; neither is Weinstein. We may not discuss every one of these accusations here, but the underlying principle is clear. I respect that some may feel that they need to vote for Moore for one reason or another; others may elect to stay home on 12 December. Some may feel the need to sometimes support Trump; even I think it's necessary to support him when he's right, now that he's President. We can still be critical of bad behavior without falling in on either 'always supporting my tribe' or 'only criticizing my tribe, as the other tribe isn't my problem.'

J Melcher said...

Moore is a long way from "one of mine" but the journalists have lumped the accusations against him together in a fashion that seems to me to discredit Moore's critics more than Moore himself.

Most of the accusers report that when Moore was in his thirties he attempted to date (romance, seduce, court, socialize with, lure, groom, ... some sort of word describing what men do to attract mates) nubile teen-aged women. Dating and courting are distinct from rape and assault. Courting a girl is different from flashing her, or masturbating in front of her, or making her continued employment a contingent upon her acquiescence to lewd remarks. There is one of the several accusers who does allege incidents involving aggressive kissing, undressing, etc, while she was a teen. So the exceptional account confirms Moore sought relationships with teens, but is otherwise not part of Moore's pattern. We also have the example of Moore's actual wife, who was much younger, and appears to also confirm the pattern that Moore -- after military service, college, law school, and establishing his career -- noticed he'd missed out on "courting" and began attempts to catch up with the teenagers he'd neglected before. Once he finally found a nubile, much younger ,girl who WOULD marry him, he appears to have never courted another, nor is he accused of extra-marital affairs with young women. The facts expressed generally indicate that Moore engaged in behaviors many modern people consider "creepy" due to the assymetries of age and power. But NOT that these were, in general, illegal, persistant, pervasive, or dishonorably intended to end in a state other-than-matrimony.

But to hear the media "analysis" of the facts in evidence, you'd think Moore was a raging cocksman running wild in Alabama deflowering every maiden in the mall.

Grim said...

I think it's fair for everyone to form his or her own assessment of the facts. If you live in Alabama, it's really your decision anyway. My advice is only to consider the Democrat rather than forward Moore, insofar as you want my advice. I respect that the members of the Hall are adults who are capable of doing their own moral reasoning.

Tom said...

I wasn't really addressing anyone here, but rather some articles over at the Federalist and some other outlets that seem to have a "policing our own" smell to them that I wanted to talk about, and the imaginary wall some people want us to pretend exists between policy and character.

I was a Democrat for a long, long time, and I only changed to Republican last year so I could vote in the primaries. Right after the primaries I thought about going back to independent, but I'll probably want to vote in the Republican primaries next year, so why bother? I truly have no party allegiance.

J also has a good point. Why is so much being made of what may or may not be old indiscretions and nothing of his faithfulness in marriage for the last several decades? Jones, on the other hand, endorses all kinds of immoral policies and wants to sustain or enact them now.

jaed said...

That brings up a broader consideration, which is that the candidates' character is not the only or even the primary factor. (Or at least I don't think it is.)

I believe voting should be based on which candidate would be better for the country (and in this case, for the state of Alabama). Character plays into that—as Thomas notes, it can't be completely separated from policy positions—but it's a secondary consideration if you're looking at it from the standpoint of what's good for the polity. All other things being equal, you'd rather elect someone of good character, of course... but what if the person with superior character advocates disastrous policies? Or what if they advocate the same policies, but the candidate of better character would be ineffective in implementing them? There are a lot of real-world situations in which a voter of integrity would reasonably prefer the candidate of lower character, and many in which preferring the candidate of better character would amount to virtue signaling.

(That being said, Moore is not someone I'd vote for by preference, if only for his views on freedom of religion. I didn't like him based on constitutionalist grounds, long before this accusation was made, and I'm glad I'm not an Alabama voter at this moment.)

Elise said...

I live in Alabama. I'm not voting for either the Democratic or the Republican candidate so my dog's not in this fight. But here's a question:

If the Democratic Senatorial candidate in Alabama has a sterling character but will vote the Democratic Party line 100% of the time, then he won't be voting his conscience; he won't be voting as a decent, thoughtful, rational man would; and he won't be carefully considering each issue. So, assuming that is how he will vote, what does his character mean in the context of his public service?

Grim said...

Aristotle would object to the severing of practical wisdom from virtue (or "character"). It doesn't really make sense to speak of someone who is 'of a great character' but whose practical decisionmaking is non-virtuous. Rather, practical wisdom is one of the key parts of determining whether or not someone is virtuous (or to what degree they are).

So your hypothesis, Elise, doesn't really make sense: you can't both have sterling character and also act in the way you describe. Your lack of virtue is demonstrated by your willingness to void practical reason in favor of partisan interest.

Jaed's version is better: you might be trying to do the right thing, and get something wrong. For Aristotle, that would mean you weren't really as virtuous as you'd thought (courage, he declares, is the virtue that wins wars -- so winning your war is necessary to being courageous). I don't know that contemporary Americans would agree; we are more willing to say that someone might do the right thing for what seem to him to be the right reasons and still screw up. Maybe he missed something; maybe the arguments that persuaded him were wrong. (Of course, even in Ancient Greece they knew about the tragedy that can come from actually doing the right thing for the right reasons: it is Oedipus' dogged pursuit of duty that destroys him, for example.)

Grim said...

Oh, I forgot to finish my thought.

So, the virtuous man who is persuade of the wrong arguments or missed something is preferable from the bad man who will pursue the right things for bad reasons, because the virtuous man can be corrected in the right way. The bad man is doing right accidentally, as it were, because money or power point that way. The good man is doing wrong accidentally, as it were, because of some error. By nature he would do right if he understood what right was.

Thus, the bad man can be kept on the right track only by aligning interest with the right track. (Plato talks about this in the Laws.) But it is better to have the man who wants to do right because it is right. Then, he will do right non-accidentally assuming that you can persuade him about what the right is. His virtue makes him interested in the question, and amenable to persuasion, in a way that the bad man isn't.

Elise said...

So if the Democratic candidate will always vote the straight Democratic party line, do we say he is not, in fact, of sterling character?

Tom said...

I think for me, how you vote is part of your character. It's impossible to be of sterling character and not vote in a sterling way: All actions are expressions of character, including voting. So, if someone is not voting in a sterling way, then they don't have a sterling character.

That said, we don't normally get perfect choices, and in politics it is often the better of two bad options. I think it's possible to maintain a sterling character and vote for the lesser of two evils.

Anonymous said...

Follow the Money. Tell me, how much money was spent?

Doug Jones is property of George Soros now. People of Alabama are so screwed

- Mississippi

Anonymous said...

Tom, which is why a person should be a member of a party for one year before they can vote in the primaries of said party.

Your no Republican. Your a Fraud.