Issues vs. Character, Part 2

ISSUES vs. CHARACTER, PART 2….I don’t want to hack this to death, but after reading through the comments to my post yesterday about issues vs. character I’d like to extend and revise a bit.

My point yesterday was that ? pace Michael Tomasky ? Republicans aren’t ignoring issues and running solely on character, they’re just being smart about which issues to emphasize. National security is the defining issue of this campaign, and it’s the one Republicans are running on.

However, there’s a second point to add to that: namely that there’s nothing wrong with running on character anyway. As Mark Schmitt points out today:

….the problems we don’t know about are still a bigger deal than the ones we do….9/11 was a vivid demonstration that how a president reacts to that, or any other, crisis is of far greater concern than the exact legislative specifics of his health care plan.

I think this is exactly right. I care about policy a lot more than most people, but even I don’t really vote for candidates based on the details of their platforms. I want them to be in the right general ballpark, of course, but beyond that there’s no way of telling which campaign promises they’ll be able to keep or what their programs will look like once they get through the legislative meatgrinder. Because of that, my vote (especially in the primaries) is much more about picking someone who has the judgment to make the right compromises, set the right priorities, and take the right actions when confronted by the unexpected.

The kind of smear campaign that Republicans are so good at ? exemplified this year by the Swift Boat crowd ? is vile. But in general, there’s nothing wrong with attacking your opponent’s character and judgment. George Bush, for example, has shown disastrously poor judgment in practically every area of his life and every area of his politics, and I’d very much like to see John Kerry make more hay out of this. After all, we’re voting for a person, not a white paper.