Republicans in Iowa appear to be having a hard time settling on what sort of person would make a good president. And they have quite a variety of characters from which to choose. So let me offer my friends and former neighbors four criteria for measuring a candidate before they tramp through the wind and snow to the caucus in early January.
Is the candidate principled, and does he or she hold the right principles? Of course, voters in the Republican Party will surely consider the conservative principles of small government, the rule of law, constitutionalism, property rights, and gun rights. But before getting to that point, any person would have to judge whether a candidate has a clear and accurate sense of good and evil. Does the candidate have a biblically informed moral compass? Abortion is a good starting point. If, by the time a person runs for president, he or she can't see that abortion is a monstrous evil, then that candidate won't get much of anything else right either.
Is the candidate a patriot? Does he or she love this country of ours? Of course, it seems to be off the table to question a candidate's patriotism, so let me put it this way: Will this candidate serve the people or will he or she serve him- or herself at the people's expense? Will the candidate serve the common good or a particular faction or class? Does the candidate appear to be overly fond of money? What's his or her record? What seems to be his or her bent?
Is the candidate prudent? Does he or she have a breadth of life experience and the sort of government experience that a president needs? Barack Obama didn't have that. It shows. Can the candidate work within our system of government? Can the candidate work across the aisle or is he or she just a bag of ear-tingling policy positions? Does the candidate know when to compromise and when to stand firm? Can he or she go beyond advocating good to actually getting good done? Bad practical judgment is especially dangerous in foreign policy. One candidate seems to think that if we leave the world alone it will leave us alone. Does experience justify that confidence?
Is the candidate persuasive? Can he or she connect with the American people? Over the years, two of a president's most valuable tools have been his command of the English language and his empathy, his ability to connect emotionally with the people. George H.W. Bush found this difficult. Bill Clinton was a master. Without the power of persuasion, you end up like George W. Bush in his second term or even Barack Obama for the last three years: low in the polls with a runaway Congress and no one behind your program.
Leading well is about getting good things done, or at least avoiding bad things. The country is in a pit and great dangers are hanging overhead. We need a president who will serve the public with good judgment from principles that are politically and morally sound and who will convince us along the way that he or she is taking us on the right course.