Monday, September 22, 2008

Virtue Has Its Virtues in Politics

How about doing virtue scans on the candidates in this crucial election? Surely such background checks and assessments would lead to better choices than simply listening to campaign rhetoric and spin. Predictions of actual responses to future challenges can be most accurately based on virtuously developed habits of moral behavior.

Virtues are on my mind because I’m working my way through a young friend’s admirable new book, Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues by William C. Mattison III. Bill has done a fine job presenting the importance of the moral virtues, and in an engaging way that will appeal to his college students.

Chapters discussing the different virtues are interspersed with discussions of test cases, such as alcohol use and premarital sex. The first half of the book is devoted to the four cardinal virtues of temperance, courage, justice and prudence, which can be open to every reasonable person, and then the last half of the book treats the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

As I read along, the thought experiment of assessing the present political candidates on their respective cardinal virtues became irresistible, however rough and ready the judgments.

First, the virtue of temperance seems to be equally displayed by the two slates. As a matter of fairness only present adult behavior should be counted. McCain is no longer a beer drinking and hell raising young midshipman and naval aviator, and Barack Obama the exemplary family man has left experimentation and inhaling far behind in the past.

Courage and fortitude also appear evenly matched on the tickets. Obama has had to overcome barriers of racism and Biden has triumphed over family tragedy and serious illness. Sarah Palin has taken on sexism, entrenched establishments and met her own family challenges.

Most famously, John Sidney McCain III has displayed the courage of his family’s military tradition in bravely enduring torture and the after effects of imprisonment in Hanoi Hilton.

While profiles of courage abound equally in our present election choices, the virtues of justice and prudence are definitely not evenly distributed. Obama and Biden in their past careers show a far greater concern for liberty, equality, peace and justice. They do not display misplaced loyalty on behalf of family and friends.

The gap grows even larger when it comes to the all important virtue of prudence. Prudence is “the virtue of choosing well” or the acquired capacity of accurately sizing up situations and making good practical decisions. Prudence is the preeminent virtue since as “the charioteer of the virtues,” it governs when and where a person deploys other virtues. Unfortunately, courage displayed in pursuing a bad cause can be dangerous.

Prudence comes from past experiences in making wise, responsible, well thought through choices-- not impulsive and not flamboyant ones. An unwillingness to accept guidance from others is also fatal to prudence.

In my estimation, John McCain and Sarah Palin, for all of their lively magnetic qualities are far outdistanced by Obama and Biden in exercising the virtue of prudence.

Appropriately, Biden and Obama have both taught constitutional law, and are well versed in the most prudent instrument for governing ever invented. When the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution are arbitrarily flouted, disasters descend.

While no voter can control the future in this precarious and unsettled period they can seek to elect the most virtuous and prudent leaders possible. My own choice is obvious, and as my granddaughter's answering message on her cell phone has it, "I think you know what to do."

Sidney Callahan


Anonymous said...

I believe Sidney has a very good idea of using the virtues of the candidates as a way to better understand them, and therefore help us get a better idea on who to vote for. If the candidates say one thing, but are not as virtuous as they claim to be, then there is no point in voting for them. I never knew about the candidates’ pasts as drinkers and drug users, but apparently they have made the right decision and have become responsible enough to be ready to lead the country. Before I read the section on courage and fortitude in this article, I knew that when I posted a comment I would mention how I admire both sides for their bravery. Obama, being the first possible black president, probably had to overcome the worst criticism, because there will always be racist people who are prejudiced due to the mere color of skin. He, however, has come very far and seems to be handling any type of problems well. On the other side, there is Sarah Palin, who, like Obama, must overcome harsh criticism. People do not like for the simple reason that she is a woman, and pick on her for that. If they looked beyond sexism people would see what this vice-presidential candidate has to offer. McCain too is picked on because of his age, and many people do not want to make the mistake of voting for him because they feel he will be just like President Bush. All in all, both sides have overcome harsh condemnation with their courage and prove to be worthwhile candidates. When it comes to justice and prudence, I find it hard to believe that there is not a balance between the two parties. They are arguably the most important virtues to have when you are looking to lead a country, since one must be wise and fair. If the democrats possess more of justice and prudence like this article states, then they might be the clear choice (I, however, am still undecided).

ginger said...

I almost agree completely with this post. First while both candidates may have made some mistakes in the past all this is behind them now and should not be dug up again. Secondly I believe that John McCain’s courage outweighs Obama’s but only in the amount it has been tested. I doubt that anything could compare to the torture and imprisonment faced by McCain. With that said Obama obviously has shown much more prudence in his campaign than his opponent. The obvious example of this is the vice president picks of the candidates. While McCain’s pick is a transparent attempt to gain Hillary votes Obama picked an experienced senator who fills some of the previous holes in his campaign. These choice will reflect on the decisions made as a future president. Who would you rather have a man concerned only with popularity or one concerned with how well the country is being governed. I know who I’d choose.

brendan said...

It seems like a very good idea to take into account the virtues and values of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates before making your choice on who you wish to vote for. Sidney Callahan did an excellent job of picking important virtues that truly help to understand each candidate’s character. By examining what is important to each individual and understanding what each has been through, you can more clearly see where the candidates stand on certain political issues and possibly gain insight to how the nominees might handle different crises. Personally, I respect both Presidential candidates as well as the Vice-Presidential candidates. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are being courageous due to the discrimination that faces African-Americans and women in politics. John McCain has a rich history defending America in the Vietnam War, even making it through over five years as a prisoner of war.

Giovanni said...

First off, I would like to compliment Sidney on a job well done. This article has several ideas that can greatly influence a voter’s stance in an election. Many people often tend to overlook a candidate’s past and can be missing out on very important information about the candidate’s character and judgment. Also, performing a “background check” on a candidate’s expression of virtue can help a voter find inconsistencies within a candidate’s beliefs. When assessing a candidate’s previous expressions of virtues, we can cross-reference these actions or words with a candidate’s current stance on an issue or a certain promise to the nation. If the past and present do, in fact, turn out to be inconsistent, a voter’s decision can be swayed, concluding the candidate is trying to attract a majority or a specific audience with a certain stance.

Secondly, I would like to assess the importance of each virtue within a candidate.

On the virtue of temperance, I believe that both candidates’ abstinence is a major plus for their appearance. To me, having this virtue displays dedication and wisdom. The candidates are dedicated in remaining temperate and are wise in that they do not abuse alcohol and drugs, acknowledging and respecting the consequences.

I believe that the virtues of courage and fortitude help the candidate’s gain popularity and respect. However, I do not believe that a greater show of courage in the past should have a large effect on the final vote. This is simply because one candidate might have had more experiences and more opportunities to display courage than the other.

On the virtue of prudence, I agree with Sidney that Obama and Biden surpass McCain and Palin. Having taught constitutional law, they are both well acquainted with the way our nation works and what it is based on. This influences one’s choices as President of the United States greatly, in the sense that these choices will be made in the image of what the U.S. was founded to be.

Once again, I would like to compliment Sidney on bringing up such a great way to learn more about who you choose to be the next person to lead this country.

Unknown said...

I believe that virtue is one of the most important aspects of a candidate, better than simply how they stand on certain topics. It shows how well they will be able to lead the country, not just what they will put into effect during their term. Presidents in the past have proven themselves in desperate situations through their prudence and good judgment. Examinations of their character are required to determine how well they will handle situations like these, but, as Sidney said, it does not have to include the past. While past achievements and mistakes do reflect on their character, what we really need to know is how well they lead now. Recent achievements and mistakes in office have much more relevance to their campaigns than stuff they did as a teenager or young adult. Therefore, what we should know about the candidates is how they have overcome challenges in life, but most importantly in office.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the idea that we should pay closer attention to the virtues of the candidates, rather than only worrying about whether they share the same opinion as us, or waiting to jump on an opposing candidate when they make a mistake or say something controversial. In regards to the virtues of temperance and courage, I agree with the statement that both candidates embody these virtues. Both candidates have overcome previous problems with temperance, and have obviously overcome them, and become stronger, otherwise they would not be fit to be candidates for the Presidency. Both candidates also embody the virtues of courage and fortitude as shown for their zeal for tying to change things from the way they are. John McCain claims he is a maverick who will bring a fresh attitude to the White House, and Barak Obama also says he will strive for change, if elected. It is the virtue of prudence, where I believe there is a grey area between the two tickets. As "bklynzboy" says John Mccain is picked on because of his age, however to be considered prudent one must know how to react to all kinds of situations in the best manner possible, and the only way to obtain this skill, is through experience, which is something Senator Obama is somewhat lacking. Many critics will say that Sarah Palin is inexperienced as well because she has only been the governor of Alaska for a short period of time, and has only presided over one budget in her life. However, she has presided over one more budget than Senator Obama has as well. In analysing the virtues of the candidates it is important not to get caught up in them, and forget to listen to what these men and women are saying. The secret to making a smart vote is to incoorporate both the cirtues of the candidates and the ideas of the candidates into your vote.