Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Vet Candidates Using the Clock

"[The debates] offer that window into what that candidate stands for. That's very important. It helps the media. It helps us as voters be able to vet a candidate so that we're not stuck with someone like we're stuck with now in the White House - someone who hasn't been vetted - Barack Obama....But, these debates with the 10-second soundbites that we're supposed to be able to describe what our foreign policy is or perhaps what the Palin Doctrine would be in a 10-second soundbite - that doesn't do a whole lot of people a whole lot of good."
-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
September 29, 2011, Freedom Watch

"The cream of the crop has not risen yet in this very fluid primary process..."
-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
November 15, 2011, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren

"I think today, my personal endorsement probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans - today at this point in the race. Maybe, as the weeks progress, it would become a little more significant..."
-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,
December 1, 2011, Hannity

“I am not ready to make an endorsement. This is a long process. Iowa is not the end. It is the beginning."
-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,
December 7, 2011, Hannity

The Clock
One of the best vetting tools in any contested primary is simple passage of time. With this method, you use your eyes, ears, and the clock to observe how a candidate performs in debates, fund-raisers, rallies, and unscripted interviews. When Gov. Palin says it is too early for her endorsement and the "cream has not risen to the top," she is using the clock. You can use the clock to determine if you even want to bother vetting a candidate's voting and financial records, or you can vet records and use the clock simultaneously.
Many aspects of a candidate's suitability for the office being sought are simply not going to be found by vetting records. A person's character, temperament, leadership methodology, impressions of colleagues who have worked with a candidate, and statements that indicate readiness or lack thereof reveal themselves only over an extended period of time.

Voters expect candidates for any office to give a straight answer to a question without hemming, hawing, "stopping to think," double-talking, telling different versions of the same story, rationalizing, back-pedaling, or lying. While gaffes can be distracting trivialities, they can be fatal to a campaign. History is replete with examples of fatal gaffes from failed campaigns of both parties. In this primary cycle, two candidates destroyed their own respective commanding leads, because their gaffes telegraphed both an inability to give a straight answer and rank lack of knowledge of various issues. One of the two candidates has already left the race. His numbers were already in the single digits when he was accused of having an affair, which allegedly ended within the past year. The other candidate is polling in the single digits.

Though character matters, most voters are more concerned with a candidate's ability to discharge the duties of office. In a scientific Fox News Poll which sampled 911 likely voters on Gingrich, Romney and Obama, 64% of the sample responded that they do not consider prior adultery a disqualifying factor. See question 41 on the 14th and final page of the poll. In my observation, when "personal pursuits" affect the job, reveal blatant hypocrisy, result in egregiously bad decisions or outrageous behaviors, voters tend to be far less forgiving. In my opinion, voters tend to be far less forgiving if the behavior is more recent.

If an elected representative or candidate's non-official pursuits involve or reveal illegal activity, it's generally game over.

A Time and a Place...

Voters who live in an early state such as Iowa with its caucuses less than a month away should now be very far along in their vetting process and close to choosing a candidate. With later states, half or more of the candidates will already have been winnowed out and long forgotten. Voters in these states are better served using the clock, then switching to web-based vetting tools around a month before the primary to focus on candidates who are relevant.

Using the clock too late precludes proper vetting of voting and financial records. But, vetting a candidate's records too early can lead to prematurely supporting someone, resulting in time, money, and emotional energy squandered. Why? The candidate may look suitable on paper, but you're not giving the clock a chance to do its work and reveal those things that won't be found in the voting and financial records.

First Time Running for Office?
If your chosen candidate is running for office for the first time, there is no voting record to vet against stated issues and financial data may be sparse. With first-time candidates, their conduct in the private sector and how they perform during the campaign will be about as much as the average citizen has to work with. This is an instance where the clock is the only viable option. Where possible, you want to refer to official public records, not just media reports (witness how many got it wrong with Gov. Palin), but there simply is little the average voter can vet with first-time candidates.

Many public records are either not free to access or require a steep learning curve to learn how to access them. Is it reasonable to expect John or Mary Q. Public to search criminal records, civil court filings - that is conduct a complete background check - on a first-time candidate for any office? Probably not. Is it reasonable to expect professionals to perform such a check, as with a SarahPAC endorsement? Yes.

In the case of the NY-13 Congressional election last year, the GOP ticket during the primary consisted of Michael Grimm and Michael Allegretti. Both men had never held office before, so there was really very little to go on. Grimm had the better message and numerous key endorsements, Gov. Palin's among them. He easily won the primary and I had been campaigning for him since Gov. Palin's endorsement some six weeks before the primary. In NY-13, our 2010 GOP primary vetting was done using the clock. Allegretti made several critical mistakes and gaffes, leading him to a crushing defeat. Grimm went on to win the general, defeating the well-financed and Obama-backed incumbent Michael McMachon (yes, there were three Michaels in this race).

Intellectual Honesty
The point of vetting is to use the mind to make a reasoned decision. When we vet, we must be intellectually honest. For instance, if we have been saying that Obama is a lousy President because he lacks prior executive experience, it is intellectually dishonest to extol candidates on our side who also lack executive experience. Similarly, it is intellectually dishonest to berate one candidate's flip-flopping behavior while ignoring, excusing, apologizing for, or soft-pedaling another candidate's flip-flops simply because we don't like the first candidate.
With Vetting, the Mind Should Lead
Likability is emotion-based; it's a "heart thing." It's also the kind of "heart thing" that easily leads to intellectual dishonesty. It further leads to convoluted and indefensible positions when brought into the vetting process. When we vet using the clock, we need to keep checking ourselves. Are we thinking everything through? If you're talking in terms of "like/dislike," "love/hate," even "support/non-support" - that's your heart talking. When we vet, the heart needs to take the back seat and the mind needs to take the leading role. If you can say, "I've examined 'candidate X's performance on the stump and found he/she does/does not really understand (insert issue here)" that's your mind talking. Most of us say we "feel" a certain way about something, when we should more properly say we "think." Feeling is not synonymous with thinking. Anything to do with vetting should be guided by thought process, not emotion.
In Closing...
Vetting candidates is our responsibility as voters. Because Gov. Palin has referenced vetting numerous times, as Palinistas, we have an elevated responsibility to vet candidates for all offices and to do so in a way that to the best of our knowledge aligns with her methodology. This series gave you the general principles and some tools to vet voting records, financial data and observe candidate performance on the stump to make a reasoned and informed decision.
This year, we have the entire House up for election and 33 Senate seats. That's 488 people aside from the President and Vice President. We also have state and city elections. See the big picture and not just POTUS. Proper vetting is one of the underpinnings of sudden and relentless reform. If we truly want better government, the onus is on us to make it happen. We make sudden and relentless happen by our vetting process and at the ballot scanner.
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