Prudence: why experience matters

Prudence: being wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment; able to discern the probable results of one’s actions.

Today’s column by conservative pundit David Brooks comes close to saying that he thinks McCain made a poor choice with Sarah Palin for VP.  I think this is a CYA (cover your ass) maneuver in case (when!) Palin goes up in smoke. The whole column is worth reading, but these are choice thoughts from his conclusion.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.

Experienced leaders can certainly blunder if their minds have rigidified (see: Rumsfeld, Donald), but the records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

A reader named Joe responded with some excellent questions:

Aside from how many foreign countries Ms. Palin has “visited,” how many states in the United States has she seen to any extent, besides Idaho?Could she pick out Nebraska on a map? What’s the difference between Vermont and New Hampshire?

Has she spent any time in a large city? What about mass transit as part of her energy expertise?

What does she know about the history of the Republican Party and isolationism, and who said “beware the military-industrial complex.”?

These aren’t trick questions. Can she cite the Preamble to the Constitution? Has she read the Constitution?

Has she lived among people who are substantially different than she is? Does she know how to get along with the other 294,000,000 of us who don’t live in Alaska? Who dance or act or play bocce or even, heavens, read, instead of shooting animals and playing hockey.

On what basis would she be the leader of a country she knows nothing about? You can’t put these things on an index card. She didn’t blink when asked to be vice president because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.

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