Criteria for Presidential Candidate Evaluation – 2008

Citizen Moral Obligations

Potential Errors, Dancing Squirrels, and Whale Bones

John M Wilson –

Improving Voter Decisions

Media coverage of the 2008 US presidential election has created an atmosphere of political intensity that is difficult to ignore. Professional political advisors and congressmen are interviewed by various media and asked their campaign advice. These pundits often advise their candidate to attack the opponent; never qualifying their advice to include only fair, honest and accurate attacks. Admonitions to their candidate to help educate people understand complex issues are missing. The most the media moderators seem to be able to ask is “do the attacks work?” Maybe the case should be made more often that one should consider voting against candidates who make inaccurate political attacks. It is important to make a distinction between accurate criticism of a candidate and inaccurate attacks.


What Are We Doing? Everyone Gets To Decide the Head of the Executive Branch of the US Government

When a major corporation, a non-profit organization, or other important institution is selecting a president or chief executive officer, the process is done carefully. Knowledgeable people who have good judgment are assigned to the task or search committee and all criteria are clearly stated. Perceptive candidates are reviewed for their ability to do the job. The selection committee will usually dismiss irrelevant information. Everyone involved wants the institution leader to be capable so as to enhance the institution’s chances of success. In contrast candidates for public office are vetted by political parties; however, this process is compromised since some party members are not knowledgeable of the job criteria and others have a personal agenda that is quite different from the idea of selecting the best person for the job. Maybe these poorly informed people will cancel out each other’s vote, but it does not always happen. General elections have the same limitations in that many voters have unconventional criteria for choosing a candidate. This article makes the case for stating and promoting the important criteria for high public office and identifying voter mistakes.


When selecting a surgeon we are primarily concerned about competence. Is there any reason why competence is anything other than priority one in selecting a US President? The President does not run the country, just the Executive branch of the U.S. government. While this is obvious, this distinction has a lot to do with the job criteria. The President is not in charge of approving our common beliefs. This role contrasts with the Catholic Church for example, where the Pope’s job description includes interpretation and modification of doctrine. The nation’s ideological battles are more appropriately conducted in the legislative branch. This is a link to an article about factors in presidential success. The following list suggests a few factors that could be included and a few criteria of what we do not want in a President. 


Who Are We Looking For?

We are not selecting a date, drinking buddy, co-worker, or personal confident. The President need not look like us, be like us, talk like us; however, the President will certainly be a person who understands us, cares about us, communicates well with us, and is able to make effective recommendations for our common good. 


The Standard for Good Citizenship Is the Moral Not the Legal Minimum

There are few legal requirements for voters other than US citizenship, an age requirement, registration, and for convicted felons, restoration of political rights. Each voter has a moral obligation to know the role of the President, understand what it takes to excel at the job, and have effective ways to evaluate a candidate for office. This obligation includes accurately identifying misleading and fraudulent claims and studying the candidate’s character and ability with a clear mind and no blinders. If even only a few voters changed their voting pattern to place honesty and competence ahead of ideology, the result would be better leaders.


Competence and Integrity Trumps Ideology, Identity, and Personal Interest 

Text Box: Leaders have a moral obligation to raise the level of public discourse and understanding, and to help people overcome common biases and ignorance.Every candidate for public office should pledge that he will not lie, cheat, or steal to win election and that his campaign will not allow in it those who would. The candidate’s personal standard and the standard for all appointments should meet the highest criteria of personal competence and integrity. Furthermore, when candidates demand integrity from others, he or she will meet or exceed those same standards. Each presidential candidate must, at least in his or her own mind, accept that no election is important enough to lie, cheat or steal in order to win.


The Role of Leaders, Either Consensus Builder or Authority Enforcer

Leaders have a moral obligation to raise the level of public discourse and understanding, and to help people overcome common biases and ignorance. Democratic institutions rely on informed people with good comprehension of issues in order to select leaders to lead and maintain effective communities. It requires moral strength and courage to confront popular errors and especially when justice requires understanding beyond a simple dogma. Presidents provide their greatest service when they help us resolve conflict. The opposite occurs when leaders ignore the consequences and are intent in forcing the ideology of one group onto another.


Public Service and the Smart Penalty

The people have an obligation to do the research and select for excellence. No effective case has been made for selecting mediocre political leaders who have limited interest in advancing their own knowledge. In some quarters it seems as if there is a penalty for being smart or well informed. Elected and public officials serve in trust of the common interest and wealth and this common interest is better served when managed by the most capable people.


Public Service and the Mean Spirited

Vindictive acts to avenge a personal grudge are inappropriate for the same reason that the law prohibits vigilante acts or lynch mobs. In some communities rough behavior may be the norm and even praised. These communities do so at their own risk. The most prosperous and healthily societies are those in which people can trust one another and whose leaders allow decisions to be questioned and maintain financial transparency. Almost everyone will make a mistake at some point. The value of forgiveness is understood and people can learn to change their behavior, so leaders are expected to negotiate these disputes. When a public official’s first and only approach to someone who disagrees is to ostracize and fire an employee, one can be fairly sure he does not understand justice or responsible leadership. 



Bureaucracies are not known for flexible decision making; they function on rules. In determining personnel promotion, large organizations use seniority as one of the most important factors to determine who and when to promote. It is a convenient rule. Longevity is overrated as a factor in choosing an executive compared to management excellence, communication, appointments, understanding the worker, integrity. Sufficient time working within the institution to understand its unique features is usually adequate for an executive to be successful, if all other appropriate management qualifications are met. Relying on longevity within the government to decide which candidate to select for President is little more than a lazy substitute for solid evaluation.


Ideology - We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Life has a certain complexity, once we believe we have it figured, a catastrophe may catch us unprepared for an unforeseen event; however, the catastrophic event may lead to new ideas and better ways of doing things. The pain of questioning a belief may cause some people retreat into the comforts of denial and never adjust. An ideology can reduce the stress of cognitive dissidence and mental anguish some experience when a belief is threatened. If one doctrine were always true under all situations, it would be applicable in every situation and no harm would come from its universal application. It would also be apparent to any reasonable person, no genius required. It is amazing how events have a way of knocking us off comfortable mind sets and discovering how few doctrines always work in every situation.


It was not that long ago that almost every Republican railed again government regulation of financial institutions and many Democrats found convenient reasons for assisting in the deregulation of financial institutions in order to encourage home ownership. These principles when applied beyond appropriate limits led to severe economic problems. Prohibition was a good example of a group trying to use the law to prohibit a human behavior that is too personal and impractical to be effectively banned. Sometimes we can be very sure we are making the right decision, after all, our idea is correct when checked against the relevant principles that we think apply. If the results are not working, perhaps there is some principle we have ignored, some information we missed, some error in judgment, and some logic error. Having to reconcile a basic principle or admit an error can be painful. Expanding our knowledge beyond our own interest is a requirement of all responsible citizens. Ideological blinders or mind sets can harm good decision making as much as any factor.

Text Box: The extraordinarily large amount of credit extended to all parts of the US economy tended to hide many of the economic problems and allowed poor priorities in the use of capital to magnify the problems and lead to much greater economic loss.


Popularity without Intellectual Curiosity

It is difficult for most people to know what they don’t know. A person who is an astute observer and who is careful to avoid personal biases will usually come to understand that there is much he or she does not know, even though the unknown can be imagined. In contrast, a person who has a narrow view with little interest in understanding the world might be comfortable with dogmatic explanations. Compounding these factors, such a person may only listen to people with similar ideas. If such is person is an ambitious high achiever, who can project self confidence, he may be very appealing as a leader. This narrow view person will provide popular platitudes, give evasive answers, and avoid questions that require complex answers. The halo effect will make this person appealing as he gives all the right signals to a group who have a set of core values. The people in the group accept the person as good and then tend to dismiss subsequent contradictory information about the person. Over time the adulation of the group reinforces this person’s belief in his or her self importance and he becomes even less likely to do any introspection. In some cases a very ambitious person who has little intellectual curiosity may be indifferent about an ideology and only uses it to advance themselves. They are often vindictive and arrogant, backstabbing hypocrites. When a narrow view person gains power in a republic, he moves towards authoritarian leadership modes. In the worst case scenario, when an authoritarian person in a society without strong democratic institutions gains power, he may become the worst type dictator. The narrow view person will often be very appealing to people looking for simplicity in complex times, and there are many historical examples.



If one has to look in a mirror to see who he wants to elect, then he should announce his intentions and put himself up for evaluation in the democratic process.  Otherwise, put executive competence, character, integrity, philosophy, and communication skill before gender, ethnicity, region, and religion. 



Political promises are over rated. Presidents have congress, budgets, and government institutions and vested interests that can play havoc with presidential campaign promises. One should read them to help understand the candidate’s general philosophy. Over promising is a very common fault. Voters would be well served by demanding less and having more realistic expectations. Be particularly aware of politicians who want to force doctrines that relate to personal matters especially when the rhetoric becomes militant. Plan to expect less in terms of public benefits in the next few years as we recover from the cost of our cumulative mistakes. As a society we may still be in the denial phase on the effects of the economy.


Are you Keeping Score?

Most people are better at remembering what they gave up in a relationship than what they got. Those who demand fifty percent will take more than half and likely still be dissatisfied. It is easy to count the taxes and ignore the benefits.  After all, how does one count the benefit of an educated and trained work force, good public health and infrastructure?


Count the Indirect Costs

Each person should know the indirect costs of a benefit and the cost of not having the restriction before getting angry and playing the victim about a restriction or tax. An example was the unrestricted whaling in the early twentieth century which led to the near extinction of many species of whales and eventual destruction of the whaling industry.  A similar phenomenon is occurring in the fishing industry. It took many years for the harm from leaded gasoline and lead paint to become apparent enough to ban them. The indirect cost of using fossil fuels is not included in its cost. The after the fact penalty of high carbon-dioxide in the air will likely exceed any other environmental catastrophe. For people today, the major consolation is that these costs of warmer atmosphere will be paid by people not yet born. While free markets are very good at deterring the price of commodities, services, encouraging efficiencies and generally increasing wealth they do not make moral decisions and are not very good at factoring indirect costs into products and services.


Appointments and Moral Capitulation

The President makes a lot of appointments and this duty is among the most critical to good government. It takes courage to avoid appointment for political expediency and select for excellence. We hear regularly that the President may appoint anyone he chooses with some exceptions that require senate confirmation. Yes, the legal minimum is anyone he wants, we should expect more. The expected standard is the appointment of excellent cabinet secretaries, judges, department heads, etc. who will excel in the accomplishment their mission, including facilitating public understanding and support of their area. We expect that the President be good at selecting people. When the President makes a very poor selection for a government position, it is nothing less than moral capitulation to shrug it off with the statement that the President is entitled to appoint whoever he wants. The president has to have the moral strength to have a wide variety of advisors with knowledge and abilities that will ferret out solutions that are not always obvious, including to having advisors who will tell him what he may not want to hear.


Political Parties and Obligation to Excellence

Political parties, at a minimum, have an unwritten obligation to nominate only competent people with appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities for the position. Once this standard is met, then compatibility with the basic doctrines of the party may be confirmed. Parties should keep the extremist and the irrational out of leadership positions. Good research must go beyond background examination to cover personal ethics and world view. Americans would benefit immensely from reasoned and moderate people leading the major parties. Fringe parties provide a less harmful home for extreme people. When the major parties have extreme or corrupt candidates one should not vote for them under any conditions. The Alaska Independence Party is a good example of a radical group. While it has moved to appear less extreme in recent years, its leaders don’t mean it.


Stereotypes, Caricatures and Ancient News 

Political parties and stereotypes are intellectual shortcuts that appear to remove the burdens of having to do research and examine areas in which a person has limited knowledge. Good citizens ignore statements such as the “Republicans are for big business” “Democrats are for the little guy.” These are yesterday’s conflicts. Expect long-term priories and political alignment to change significantly, just as society is changing.


Executive Ability and Excellence

Job titles and popularity can be misleading. One evaluates a person by how effective he or she is in the job under the given set of circumstances. A healthy skepticism is appropriate of political leaders who gain popularity by making unfair attacks on unpopular people or ideas.


War and Pride

There was a time when an army defeated its enemy, captured territory, killed the leadership and the war was over. While there may have been some resistance, a victory was clear to everyone. World War II is a good example of this type of war. Exceptions to this sequence have occurred particularly when the victorious did not understand the people in the defeated area, their customs, and were not willing or able to manage the nation building or control the conquered area in an effective manner. In recent years advances in low cost electronics and explosives have enabled a small dedicated number of highly motivated dissidents to more effectively conduct an insurgency provided that a few of their members would do suicide missions. The risk that a conventional war could deteriorate into unconventional war is greater now, particularly when two cultures clash. In unconventional wars victory may be difficult to define and not always obvious.


The proponents of the Iraq war regularly use the term surrender or its equivalent to describe any plan that has the US withdrawing most of its military prior to some unrealistic or poorly defined level of victory. Yet by conventional standards, the US won the war. Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay were killed and Iraqi army was defeated. The United States has had less success in the nation building component, but this should not surprise anyone. President George Bush campaigned on a promise not to do nation building and he and his leadership team were not prepared to do this type of work. The US civilian leadership was not very well informed about Iraq in particular and Muslim society in general. There are many reasons why the end result of the Iraq war may not be very satisfying regardless of when the US military eventually leaves. Directing emotional terms like surrender at anyone suggesting an alternative paradigm is counterproductive.


From 1967 through 1969, I had the privilege of serving as a junior officer in the US Army. Most of that time, I was a faculty member in the Psychological Operations School, which was a component of the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This is the US Military’s counter insurgency center. It was clear to almost everyone there, that the Vietnam War was not being conducted very well.  President Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Westmoreland were all obsessed with body counts and the communist menace. Enormous resources were wasted due to a poor understanding of the Vietnamese and their culture and values. As a result the requirements for success were poorly understood. It became apparent to me that unconventional wars have their own unique features that require a combination of nation building and persuasion of the local people that is very difficult to achieve. Complicating the establishment of an effective counter insurgency and nation building strategy was the intense emotional reaction, nationalism, and pride, that prevented the US from achieving a clear understanding the conflict, setting reasonable and achievable goals and determining if these goals were worth the cost. In short, a cost benefit analysis is the minimum any nation should do before invading another country or Text Box: The difference between “tax and spend” and “borrow and spend” is not as great as it may appear.

assisting in fighting an insurgency. A president planning an invasion had better insure that the people understand the analysis and agree with the goals; and these benefit analysis and goals better be accurate. The costs of failure to honestly and accurately present the goals and analyses and convince the people to support the war will not always be immediate and exactly known but they will come and will be very significant. 


Tax and Spend Verses Tax and Borrow

Some politicians like to accuse other politicians of being “big tax and spend liberals.” Many of these same accusers are guilty of being big “spend and borrow” politicians. The difference between “tax and spend” and “borrow and spend” is not as great as it may appear. As government debt increases, the interest payments on the debt are paid by taxes which may increase or cause services decrease compared to a government that has little or no debt. Governments that carry large amounts of debt lose some options in meeting social challenges and improvements of the common assets and resources. What is most important is not the size of the government or how it is financed. What is important is the nature of the expenditure. If a government expenditure produces wealth, society benefits. If it only redistributes wealth, there is no net gain for society. Furthermore, if government can manage these societal investments with efficiency, the people will benefit. If government investments are poorly executed there is no gain or there may even be a loss.  A mistake some governments make is not managing their personnel very well, especially when performance standards are not enforced. Poorly run governments will almost always hinder progress, and excessively high government debt will eventually cause the people to lose confidence in their economy and become very cautious in making investments. Examples of poor government investments are subsidies for commodities, unnecessary wars, and entertainment subsidies. Examples for productive investments are essential infrastructure, education in needed people skills, and encouragement of improved technology.


Economic Policy and the Greed Myth

It is an easy, cheap shot to blame greedy bankers, brokers and finance executives for the present financial crises. It is also a disservice to the public. There is no evidence that people are greedier now than 20 years ago. Politicians who anthropomorphize financial systems and find scapegoats distract from the understanding of financial functions.  Yes, stupidity and overleveraged institutions are important factors, the misuse of untested credit default swaps as insurance to allow high leveraging by financial institutions is near the top of bad judgment decisions as well as the use of Synthetic CDO’s (Collateralized Debt Obligations, which allow banks and others to make diverse investments without actually buying the stocks or bonds). These instruments were unregulated and their use was far greater than appropriate. They should have been tested on a much smaller scale over many years. This would have been required if the financial institutions were effectively regulated and people understood their full risk. Bundling subprime financing with AAA bonds without complete disclosure or risk analysis is an extremely bad idea. If the industry was adequately regulated this type of bundling would have had a warning label. The warning would include a notice to the effect that “this instrument does not have AAA level assurance.”


The extraordinarily large amount of credit extended to all parts of the US economy tended to hide many of the economic problems and allowed poor priorities in the use of capital to magnify the problems and lead to much greater economic loss. There is plenty of blame to go around; however, the reasons for the severity of the present financial crises is that credit supported consumption of too many of the types of goods and services that contribute little to wealth creation. Investment in the US has put much of its resources in finically non-viable houses instead of investing in things and people that produce more wealth. At least for a while, the party is over. If this crisis leads to increased investment in people skill levels, infrastructure, productivity, and in general those parts of the economy that produce more wealth, there is a silver lining.  If society continues to emphasize investment in nonproductive areas, such as casinos, sports complexes, luxury houses, cars, yachts, and excessive imported personal and household goods we will have learned little and will be repeating the crisis in some form a generation or so.


Text Box: Is he the man who wants a reasonable and fair approach to immigration and intelligent foreign policy, or the man who appeals to ethnocentric bias and foreign policy by cliché?  The country may not want to be the puppy with tilted head watching the dancing squirrel president in order to find out.Applying These Principles to 2008

I have applied all of the above factors to both of the major presidential candidates. There are many examples I could have used; however, for the sake of brevity only a few examples will be listed here. It is plausible that other people may reach a different conclusion. One goal is to encourage people to expect competent management from the executive branch, and to be very skeptical of the Karl Rove School of politics regardless of which party his disciple is working. When voters demand honest campaigns the effectiveness of deceptive policies will diminish.


Neither candidate has had tremendous executive experience managing large institutions over many years. Legislative experience is not the same as executive experience, while it does have value. Most naval aviators generally don’t manage large bureaucracies; however, there is some skill transfer. Modern presidential campaigns are like a test lab of management skills. They also represent a simultaneous test allowing one to make a direct comparison of the management and appointment ability of the candidates. In many ways presidential campaigns parallel the duties of the presidency. They are very high stress, mentally and physically demanding jobs, with long hours and constant criticism. Anyone who successfully navigates this electoral obstacle course is likely to be able to handle the stress of the office. Provided the candidate is reasonably intelligent, honest, open minded, and reasonably flexible, there is a good chance of success in office. Praise and adulation may provide the immediate surrounding which can insulate the candidate. The best candidates look beyond their supporters to provide reality checks. An objective evaluation of the campaigns of the candidates may be the most valid way to compare the candidates, because the final goal, time frame, rules, and the results are the same.


John McCain Campaign

The McCain campaign had problems getting the Republican nomination and was out of money at one point. Due to the special requirements of the Republican Party, better organized candidates such as Mitt Romney were defeated and "Rudy" Giuliani ran into problems as he tried to shortcut the nomination process. Almost by default, John McCain, through dedicated determination, climbed through the wreckage of the other candidates’ campaigns to get the nomination. He has changed direction and emphasis and has put on displays of symbolism such as taking public campaign funds and suspending his campaign, neither of which helped him or the nation. It gives the impression of impulsiveness. He refers to this as being a maverick. Most of his top advisors are in the Karl Rove school of deceptive politics. While John McCain has expressed disagreement with this approach, he has been less than enthusiastic in stopping its application in his campaign. Publicly admonishing his supporters for inappropriate behavior is very rare and playing to fears and using misleading stereotypes is common in his campaign. His use of the term socialist and misquoting people about the nature of the progressive income tax is not only unethical; it tends to contribute to some people’s misunderstanding of economics. 


John McCain says in many stump speeches that he “knows how to capture Osama bin Laden.” If he has some secret method, why can he not share this plan with George Bush?  His answer is that “I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken.”  At least he could give George Bush a try; if he says “no” then he may have a case.  What he is doing is allowing this guy to continue to operate and cause all the damage, so that he can have the glory of directing the killing of bin Laden. Please forgive me if I seem skeptical, but I do not think he has any sure plan and boastful statements can have a way of costing credibility if one does not deliver. The same may be said about his claim that he knows how to fix the economy.


McCain claims campaign reform as a major legislative accomplishment.  The campaign reform act is a poor law that ineffectively attempts to control campaign spending; it doesn’t.  It does create an incredible bureaucratic obstacle to small local groups who may want to work for or oppose local initiatives. McCain claims that he foresaw the financial problems with Freddie Mac and Fannie May; however, he was ineffective about doing anything about these problems. With 26 years in congress, his legislative accomplishments appear somewhat skimpy.


Joe Wurzelbacher (Joe the Plumber) has been chosen as an unofficial symbol of John McCain’s support for small business. It is curious that Senator McCain would bring so much attention to this particular person, since Joe is not truthful about most of his public statements, including his business, income level, profession, political affiliation, plus he has outstanding tax bills. He is not a real plumber and he has no realistic plan to buy his boss’ business. Is this another example of how the McCain campaign moved quickly without doing the research or maybe Senator McCain is happy with a person who is playing loose with the facts? Surely a better example could have been found.  What is sad is not that Joe Wurzelbacher made a fraudulent presentation to Barack Obama, but that John McCain chooses to make a hero out of an unrepentant, deceptive person who has little understanding of the function of government and the US tax structure.


John McCain’s choice for Vice President is politically expedient, at the cost of competence and integrity. The President makes a lot of appointments and this duty is among the most critical to good government. It takes courage to avoid politically expedient appointments.  We have suffered from numerous George Bush appointments that were made for ideological purity or loyalty instead of competence. Alberto R. Gonzales is one of his most prominent poor choices. One of the most important appointments the President makes is the Vice President. To date, it appears that the process was flawed. The motivation for the appointment was to appeal to specific political segments; its effectiveness is somewhat questionable. The evidence is clear that neither John McCain nor his staff did a very thorough job of understanding Sarah Palin. She meets certain ideological criteria and can present herself with an entraining and charming personality. She also appeals to those who are angry with some government policies and environmental rules. Political expediency was the goal to excite a segment of the population. It appears that McCain is in denial on Sara Palin’s ability. The case for Palin rests on her serving as the governor of Alaska and being popular with the majority of the people. Serving and popularity does not necessarily equivocate to being good or competent executive. She went after some corrupt, mostly Republican politicians who have run the state, and this has had wide spread popular appeal. It is too soon for the problems of her appointing far less experienced and qualified personnel to become apparent. Cronyism almost always leads to problems. Considering her open door policy to several extremist leaders of the Alaskan Independence Party, along with not very subtle endorsements of them, inappropriate use of public funds, vindictive retaliation against anyone who does not agree with her, intolerance of native people, denial strategies, wrapping herself in pseudo patriotism, greatly exaggerated claims of executive experience, speeches laced with platitudes and being light on facts, she is an inappropriate nominee of Vice President. Having the city of Wasilla build a sports complex on someone else’s land while she was mayor is a special case of irresponsibility. There is more on this later. These examples suggest that John McCain is inconsistent in his appointments and it raises the question of his ability or willingness to make the best appointments.


See the addendum at the end of this article for more documentation on serious problems with the appropriateness of Sarah Palin as Vice President.


The McCain campaign management is analogous to the squirrel in the road with a car bearing down on him. For some threats, squirrels have a tendency to run and then change direction several times, when there appears to be no reasonable explanation to do so, at least not to anyone other than the squirrel. This dancing squirrel, maverick, or erratic behavior is rarely helpful in a senior executive. John McCain said he wanted to conduct a clean campaign, and generally he has, except when the polls do not look favorable. He has had Phil Graham as an advisor who led the deregulation that allowed the extreme risk taking in the financial markets, until it became apparent that the high risk approach did not work. Ex Republican Gov. William Milliken of Wisconsin expressed doubts about his party's nominee. “He is not the McCain I endorsed.” Who is the real John McCain? Only the dancing squirrel may know for sure. Is he the angry man with a temper and person encouraging misleading statements about his opponent or a man with really funny one liners and charming demeanor who knows the Naval Academy honor code? Is he the man who wants a reasonable and fair approach to immigration and intelligent foreign policy, or the man who appeals to ethnocentric bias and foreign policy by cliché?  The country may not want to be the puppy with tilted head watching the dancing squirrel president in order to find out.


Barack Obama Campaign

Obama has organized and managed one of the best run political campaigns ever. It has excellent leadership, and has applied all the principles of effective management to deliver a consistent, positive message. It and skilled organization that is very good at fundraising and communication. Obama’s selection of people is superb. This description of his management skills typifies much for his adult life. He is good at learning from mistakes and adjusting appropriately. Both strategically and tactically the Obama campaign has out foxed the McCain campaign so such so that the McCain campaign management does not look very smart. There is always an explanation from the McCain campaign for a failing or an accusation that the Obama campaign did something equally unethical. These explanations are usually lame. I particularly like Obama’s consistent admonition to supporters “don’t boo, vote.” This sets the tone for supporters and limits extremist expression. Applying the factors above to each candidate, I came to the conclusion that Barack Obama would make a better president than John McCain. This quote from former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell summarizes the merits of the case for Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States calling him a “transformational figure” who has reached out to all Americans with an inclusive campaign and displayed “a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity” and “a depth of knowledge” in his approach to the nation’s problems.


Obama’s appointment and selection of advisors for this campaign have been very good. Certain extremist groups are playing on irrational fears that he would appoint inappropriate people to office. There has been no evidence of that. For example, by every reasonable measure, Joe Biden is ready to step in as President and would be able to manage the Executive branch. He may have had a problem remembering to cite every quote he used in his speeches, and he is often verbose. If we need him in an emergency, we can easily learn to live with these few negatives. 


Special Concerns about Sarah Palin as Vice President

She made some major errors both as mayor of Wasilla and a governor of Alaska.  These are links that describe her activates and accomplishments.

A Sarah overview -

Sarah as Mayor -

Alaska Independence Party connection -

Sarah Palin's Wasilla, Alaska -

Factual corrections to Palin claims -

The Genuine Sarah -

Checking Sarah claims -

The experience argument -

Rosanne Cash as Republican VP nominee -

Favorable comment on her accomplishments -


With hundreds of examples to choose from it was not easy to pick a few examples that typified her management. Since I have an interest in property management, a real estate issue from Wasilla, Alaska was chosen. She claims one of her major accomplishments as mayor is the construction of the Wasilla sports complex. This building was constructed on land the city did not own. Not owning the land before building on it is considered rather stupid by all the property managers and real estate lawyers I know. The rationalization given was that the city would use eminent domain to get the land. This is a rather lame excuse, as it caused the city more than a million dollars in legal and other fees. Why is a sport complex so important that it had to be the rushed to construction without the appropriate real-estate negotiations. It is interesting to note that her son plays ice hockey and the complex provided a nice facility for him.  This “does what she wants, regardless of the rules” modus operandi may have appeal in Alaska and it occasionally works. Relationships among people, whether governmental or personal are based on trust and people who ignore the normal contracts undermine the very concept of law and a civil society.


As governor, Palin led in the establishment of several boards and commissions to deal with corruption that had become common in this Republican managed state. These steps are often presented as indications of her favorable management experience. Alaskan politics had sunk so low that there was almost no other way to go but up. Since the top management of the state had become so corrupt, her aggressive style to challenge the corruption has considerable appeal with Alaskans and she is widely praised for going after members of her own party. A truly competent and effective reformer could have done a lot more; Alaska presented an outstanding opportunity to make extraordinary improvements. Sarah Palin made some progress in Alaska, but it could have been a lot better. 


Sara Palin’s management skill, treatment of people who disagree with her, insight into complex problems and comprehension of ethics systems is well below the expected standards for national leadership which are much more stringent than Alaska’s executive standards. She is so far off the scale for the standard of excellence for a US president that a fair simile of “her presidential knowledge, skills, and abilities would rank her as low as whale bones.” Her style is highly unlikely to work in the national level. Her management methods may appeal in Alaska; however, her confrontational method may be counterproductive. It is less likely to work on the national level.



Warren G. Harding is often listed as the least effective US President ever. If Palin became President would she be better than Harding? Maybe she would be better; this is a difficult call. A weak but plausible case could be made that she would be a better Vice President than Spiro Agnew (VP 1969-73). I also put his ratting as Vice President at the whale bones level.


A Note to Sarah

Regardless of the results of the November election, please devote considerable effort to your continuing education, particularly in areas such as: economics, government, ethical philosophy, earth sciences, and scientific methodology. An in depth knowledge base in these disciplines would be a great help to you and enhance your political career.


26 October 2008