At present, the talk of judgment, especially of the political kind, is very loud in the American public sphere. Astonishingly, it is startlingly absent in the political decisions made by those very same people who seem to value judgment as a desirable personal trait.
The reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 clearly indicated that political sensibility had suffered a heart attack in America. His abysmal management of the two wars he launched and the current state of economy testify to the lack of prudence in the American people’s decision to reelect him. In the past few days an avalanche of political decisions, made especially by Republicans, suggests that good judgment was now on life support.
What is political judgment anyway? I think it is an innate capacity to make good political choices. It is the ability to make decisions which are informed not just by existing political circumstances but also by a grasp of what is the public good. It is also a reflection of an ability to understand the nuances involved and display the tact and diplomacy necessary to ensure that good decisions are acted upon. Political judgment is the exercise of prudence and wisdom in politics at the expense of partisanship and selfishness. It is the privileging of long-term interests and the good of the largest number.
In short all the qualities that define political judgment are in essence antithetical to what we mean by the term “maverick.”
Dictionaries define maverick as “An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother,” sort of like Sarah Palin who sounds like one who has been separated from her mother ship, or “a dissenter”. So a maverick is one who is either lost or one who breaks away from a group and is eventually lost. Neither is an indicator of good judgment or prudence.
John McCain insists that he is a maverick, and he and Palin are a team of mavericks. Unless they are asserting that the entire Republican Party has lost its marbles, has somehow gone brain dead, there is no virtue in claiming that being a maverick is a good thing. I think they are doing just that. Every time the McCain-Palin ticket insists that they should be elected because they are a pair of mavericks, they are saying that the Republican Party en masse has lost its capacity to make good political judgments and since they are not like the rest of the Republicans, they are a good bet.
McCain has demonstrated in my opinion, that maverick or no maverick, he lacks political judgment. Here are a few examples. In 2000, he called Christian conservative leaders as “agents of intolerance” and “evil influence on the Republican Party.” Not very prudent given the fact that social conservatives form the backbone of the Republican Party.
His decision to support the war in Iraq, and his continued support for the Bush foreign policy suggests that when it comes to national security, McCain is no different from Bush. He is not a maverick on national security and therefore as devoid of political judgment as the Bush administration.
In recent weeks he has shown that far from good judgment, the man may not even be intellectually stable. His decision to suspend his campaign to campaign for a 700 billion dollar handout for the Wall Street showed that even his political gimmicks are silly.
His statement that “the fundamentals of the American Economy are strong” even as everything around him was coming down, so hard that he had to suspend his campaign to address the disasters in the “fundamentally sound” US economy; defines McCain – a man completely out of touch with reality.
Will it be good judgment to vote for a man who understands so little about the economy, when the economy is in doldrums?
Finally, his choice to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from American Presidency says it all. Sarah Palin is so awfully challenged in the attic, that if she does not fall flat on her face, it is for Republicans a moment for celebration. Peggy Noonan, a strong Palin supporter, gushed in the Wall Street Journal about Palin’s performance in the Vice Presidential debate, “She is not a person of thought but of action.” Exactly; action without thought – that is what we will get if we put McCain and Palin in the White House.
Look around you, see what eight years of governance without judgment have done to America. Do you have the good judgment to vote for change?
(Photo: Tom LeGro via flickr under a Creative Commons license)
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.