Name that virtue!

It is a rare day that I feel like quoting David Brooks with approval, and of course the approval is going to be qualified, but he’s written a thoughtful article on the qualities needed in a president or vice-president.  

I’m puzzled by his calling a particular set of traits “prudence,” and it seems to me that it is an interesting question which virtue he has in mind.  If he’s right, it is essential to national leadership.  But I’m leaving that to you all.

We can also importantly object to his last line.  But I’ll leave that for the end.  This post is not so much about the VP candidate as about leadership.

…  In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.

… The records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

In characterizing the reaction to Palin, Brooks might have looked seriously at the  feminist reaction.  “Smug” is hardly the word for what I have been reading.

Testimony, Credibility, Manipulation?

Over the last many years, we’ve seen Rovian political tactics in action: a key one of these has been to release a readily discredited anti-Republican bit of ‘evidence’, let the media get hold of it publicly, then discredit it. We may be starting to see this in action with the “list of books Palin banned“. The list is wholly fictitious (some of the books had not even been published when Palin was supposedly banning them), and in fact Palin never succeeded in banning any books. Why do I think there’s something Rovian going on? Well, a few days ago, someone sent me this Eve Ensler article, which I decided not to post as I’m trying to not talk about Palin all the time. Then a couple days later, someone sent me another version they’d received which had the list of banned books as a part of it. Rovian manipulation, trying to get us leftists touting a false list of banned books? Or just someone over-reaching in their enthusiasm to bash Palin? Either way, it’s important not to fall for it, since anyone citing that list will seriously undermine their own credibility.