The biggest problem with constant polling is constant feedback. Of course, that is what polls are for: to tell politicians which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. But that is also the problem with them. The winds are variable, depending on who is doing the polling, and which way the pollsters sway the questions, and who they ask, and what day of the week it is, and whether their askees have had time for their morning coffee, or whether it’s raining…you get the picture, and that picture is muddled.
If the purpose of polling is to tell a politician what the people think, then it does its job either too well, or not at all. Constant polling is like tweeting: you know exactly how a person feels at any particular instant of any particular day, but you know nothing about that person. It’s only the latest random thought that dribbles out, depending upon how the question is worded, but any deep-seated principles remain buried.
That’s why it is important to reverse the process. The politicians need to be the ones who make their cherished beliefs known, so that the voters can choose whom they think will best represent them. If a politician bases his actions and his votes on the will-o’-the-wisp of each hour, he will bring no coherent system of principles to the table.
This is precisely the problem that we are facing in our global relations today. We, that is, our federal government, have no formulated plan for dealing with the issues that arise every day. Each step is singular; each approach stands on its own. Do we assist the refugees in the Sudan? Who knows? Do we interfere in Syria? Who can tell? Do we tell China to get its act together? Possibly. Do we protest when we learn of the deaths of dissidents in Cuba? It’s a thought. Or, maybe we continue our path of appeasement and negotiation, combined with a few well-placed assassinations here and there.
The voters who are displeased with Mr. Obama’s catch-as-catch-can approach to world politics are not assuaged by Mr. Romney’s I-thought-this-then-but-I-think-this-now method. With no strong individual, guided by his own set of moral principles at the helm, where do we turn? How do we fix this situation?
Picking at every pronouncement made on the campaign trail, and pouncing on every gaffe, perceived or real, does nothing to inspire confidence in either the voters or the candidates. Focusing on what are really distractions does not allow voters to discover where the candidates stand on any subject. That leads to indecision on the part of consumers, and inaction on the part of business. The entire economy suffers when the American public doesn’t know whether to shop or save, and companies don’t know whether to expand or contract.
And confusing the American voters is only part of the problem. The issue of what actions a politician may take when he assumes office becomes more dire when we factor in the opinions of other world leaders.
If the leaders of the European countries cannot count on what the leader of the United States says on any given day, true alliances cannot be made; true assistance cannot be given in any crisis. If the leaders of potential opponents cannot count on what the leader of the United States says on any given day, fraught situations can quickly devolve into real catastrophes.
With no set of principles to guide foreign diplomacy, Presidential policy seems to be merely a blundering about: trying appeasement here, negotiation there, with a few sanctions thrown in for good measure. The opposition cannot trust the appeasement, is skeptical about the utility of meaningful negotiation, and may decide to wait out any sanctions—after all, the President is dependent upon the will of the people, which fades quickly without stern moral guidance to back it up.
This is why the religion of a candidate is so important. Not that a candidate is a member of any particular religion, but that his stance is founded in inviolable principles that he will not compromise. His constituents must know that his word is law. That when he makes a promise, it is based on tenets that he believes in, that he will uphold no matter what.
More importantly, in this ever-shrinking world, his fellow leaders must know that he has bounds which he will not cross. He may be able to bluff during negotiations about exactly where the line may be drawn, but the people on the other side of the table are firmly convinced that there is such a line.
Relativism has no place in political life. If a candidate tosses out the religious playbook, then he must replace it with a new set of principles, conjured up out of whatever he wants, but forged in steel.
This is not to say that a candidate cannot change his mind, cannot evolve. But if he is to do so, he must make explicit the rationale behind his new-found principle. Otherwise, he risks looking merely opportunistic, and loses any advantage that he may have had in dealing with others. If you wavered here, why wouldn’t you waver there? is the next logical thought, and If that principle is not so important, then how important can your other principles be?
Politicians have worked hard to remove religion from politics, and that is understandable. The specifics of any religious belief tend to be offensive to those who adhere to a different religious belief, and it is difficult to be elected by a wide swath of voters with varied belief systems. But along with removing religion from politics, it seems as though politicians have removed all moral precepts as well.
We must have a mechanism for discerning a politician’s guiding principles; for discovering what he will tolerate, and what is beyond the pale; what he is willing to compromise for the sake of his other-believing constituents, and where he draws his lines. Without a firm rock to back him up, a politician sways in the slightest breeze, his constituents have no faith in his pronouncements, and his international opponents gain ground as he wavers.