Saturday, October 02, 2004

Certainty in the presidential debate

“If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. … I just know how this world works, and that in the councils of government there must be certainty from the U.S. President.” — George W. Bush

“It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. ... and certainty sometimes can get you in trouble. (But you can) learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right.” — John Kerry




I found it interesting that the word “certainty” popped up quite a few times in the first presidential debate; and even when the word itself wasn’t used, there was an undercurrent behind many comments, a hidden debate on the difference between conviction and flexibility.

The question seems to be: Does one stick to his core convictions, simply forge ahead and stay on message — almost as a propaganda tool? Or does one incorporate new information and changing circumstances into his views and act accordingly? How do thought and judgment, on the one hand, interact with conviction and certainty on the other?

THE PROBLEM WITH CONVICTIONS

The problem with convictions and ideals, it would seem, is that they are something we know and accept today. But if we’re living and learning and getting wiser with each passing day, why would we assume something we adopted yesterday, last year or a decade ago is still the best idea?

To "live and learn" means being flexible in regards our ideals, which may be more the product of our immaturity than we’d like to admit. Maintaining our ideals and convictions in the face of new experience and updated information is like saying, “I am getting dumber every day, so I have to stick to things I learned back when I was smart.” Does than make any sense? Isn’t that backwards and fundamentally wrong-headed?

STAYING ON MESSAGE?

I also thought it was almost insulting the way George Bush talked about staying on message, especially in regards our troops. It’s as if he thinks that as long as he maintains conviction everyone else will blindly follow suit. He’s so conviction-oriented he doesn’t seem to grasp that some people go back and revisit their convictions and change their minds — no matter what their president says. Some people actually think new thoughts.

EXCERPTS

Here are some excerpts from the first debate that touch on certainty and conviction. There’s a link to the full transcript at the bottom.


B: “The best way to defeat them (terrorists) is to never waver, to be strong … And if we lose our will, we lose. But if we remain strong and resolute, we will defeat this enemy.”

K: “I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are. But we also have to be smart, Jim. … This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America.”

B: “I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis? No, the way to win this is to be steadfast and resolved and to follow through on the plan that I've just outlined.”

B: “What kind of message does it say to our troops in harm's way, ‘wrong war, wrong place, wrong time’? Not a message a commander in chief gives, or this is a ‘great diversion.’”

K: “I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right.”

B: “He says the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So what's the message going to be: ‘Please join us in Iraq. We're a grand diversion. Join us for a war that is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time?’ I know how these people (world leaders) think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently. They're not going to follow somebody who says, 'This is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.' … They're not going to follow somebody whose core convictions keep changing because of politics in America.”

B: “My concerns about the senator is that, in the course of this campaign, I've been listening very carefully to what he says, and he changes positions on the war in Iraq. He changes positions on something as fundamental as what you believe in your core, in your heart of hearts, is right in Iraq. You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our allies. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens. And that's my biggest concern about my opponent. I admire his service. But I just know how this world works, and that in the councils of government, there must be certainty from the U.S. president. Of course, we change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs, the strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in the world.”

K: “But this issue of certainty. It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground; he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble.”

Link to full transcript.



1 Comments:

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