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Politics

By Mike Ruffin It’s early in 2019. So far, roughly 197 Democrats have announced that they will be candidates in the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, a couple of Republicans are reportedly weighing the possibility of running for their party’s nomination against the incumbent president who really isn’t a Republican’”c’mon now, you have to admit he isn’t’”but who won their nomination and the presidency in 2016. Oh, and there’s a super-rich guy who used to sell coffee that costs three times as much and has no better taste than what you can get at McDonald’s who may run as an independent for some unfathomable reason. So yes, the 2020 election is already on our minds. Lord have mercy. Still, 2019 is a non-election year, so I thought it might be a good time to talk about politics before we start thinking and talking too much about the candidates. It might do us good to think and talk about the ways we think and talk about politics. I’m going to focus on the ways we think and talk about presidents, but I suspect my observations are more broadly applicable. Let me put my main thought right up front: when it comes to evaluating presidents, we aren’t objective. How we judge a president’s actions depends largely on whether we voted for him. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m using ‘him’ to refer to presidents, since thus far they’ve all been men. I hope and trust this will change soon.) Here’s my main evidence for saying we aren’t objective in the ways we evaluate presidents: a president we approve of can do and say controversial things and we defend him, but if a president we don’t approve of does and says the same (or the same kinds of) things, we attack him. I wonder why that is? I can think of several possible reasons. First, we have trouble separating legitimate criticism from partisan attacks. Sometimes when a new president is elected, his opponents (enemies might be a more accurate word) throw every accusation they can come up with at him. Some of their criticisms are accurate, some are extremely exaggerated attack versions of accurate criticisms, and some amount to fictional conspiracy theories. The enemies’ approach is to throw as much at the president as possible, knowing that some of it, true or not, will stick. One reason we have trouble separating legitimate criticism from partisan attacks is that we tend to limit ourselves to media outlets that confirm our preconceived notions. Another is that we tend to get a lot of our information from Internet sources that aren’t vetted well for truth and accuracy’”or aren’t vetted at all. Second, we don’t like to admit that we may have been wrong to support and vote for a candidate who became president. We may have what seemed to us good reasons to support and vote for a candidate. We heard the warnings about him and we thought they were exaggerated. After he has been president for a while, we realize there are reasons to be concerned. But to acknowledge it is to admit that we were wrong to vote for him. That’s hard to do, especially since it implies that those who voted for the other candidate may have been right (or at least less wrong). Maybe we should remember that a vote isn’t a marriage vow. We didn’t pledge to be faithful to the president no matter what he does. And faithfulness to the country, to the Constitution, and to our neighbors might compel us to change our minds about a vote we cast. If we do decide it wasn’t the right vote, we can’t go back and change it. But we can try to do better next time. What can we do to try to think more objectively about a president for whom we voted? We might try regularly asking ourselves this question: if President #1, for whom I voted, does something that I criticized President #2, for whom I didn’t vote, for doing, then shouldn’t I also criticize President #1 for doing it?

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