Thursday, September 16, 2004

Philosophy and the political campaign

The philosophy blog Doing Things With Words has a great recent post about the role of philosophy in politics and political discourse (hat tip: Parableman).

Personally, I think it's undeniably true that a solid understanding of philosophical reasoning would be an asset for a candidate for president to possess. The grossly negative ramifications of wishful thinking, unwarranted assumptions and sloppy reasoning being used to govern a modern nation-state makes reason the critical tool of responsible politicians. Unfortunately, as much as we would wish otherwise, unreason in suchs forms of propaganda, political "horse-trading", and bureaucratic group-think are always going to exist in any kind of political system. Another asset that a candidate for president will have to possess is the ability to apply these irrational tendencies of human nature towards a higher, rational purpose.

Senator Kerry's position on the war with Iraq seems to be a case in point. In reality, Kerry has been stradling between two mutually inconsistent positions. The first position is the one suggested by Doing Things With Words:
Kerry's position is simple: he was in favor of giving the president the authority to go to war (which is what he voted for) but thinks that Bush misused that authority (and thus opposes the war itself).
The second position is that Bush is the monstrous president who can intentionally order American soldiers into combat without body armor to deliberately expose them to greater risk of injury, or who can willfully expose states with Democratic majorities to truely unnecessary terror risks in order to avoid dispensing federal funds to his political enemies. Certainly it is within Kerry's perogative to claim that he believed President Bush to be a trustworthy man who deserved to be granted an authority that he later misused, but it is not rational for him to claim that Bush was both to be trusted with the authority to go to war and to be vigorously opposed as a despicable criminal.

Kerry's position on Iraq at times may have been irrational in the sense described above, but it is not necessarily an irrational campaign tactic for the presidential candidate of a political party that is divided over the war on Iraq.


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