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Larry Arnn: Character Matters, But Practical Judgment Reigns Supreme in Picking a President

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from an interview with Larry Arnn conducted in October 2016. It has been modified for clarity.

Character should influence the evaluation of the 2016 presidential candidates in the same way it always should.

But you just have to think intelligently about it. Obviously, the most direct things all have to do with: What do they say they will do? Can they do them? And will it be good if they do? Those are the prime questions, so you have to look at those first.

There have been very upstanding people — personally Christian, moderate, faithful people — who to my lights were not very good at being President. Why? Because they didn’t know what the thing was about really. There are Republicans since Ronald Reagan, who have both run for the office and held the office, who don’t quite understand that there’s a competition between two alternative kinds of government, and they have helped to reinforce the wrong kind. You can trust them to do what they say they will do. But what they say they will do is not really all that good in many important ways.

Just witness the No Child Left Behind Act, which is an amazing attempt to give the federal government extensive control over the details of the education of America’s young people. That is, in my opinion, the reverse of what the Founders implemented and what they articulated as the ends of education. It is amazing that the ends of No Child Left Behind were articulated as making sure we have very high standards. But they never explained what those standards were and that is because, I think, they did not know themselves. The Founders implemented very different — and very comprehensive — structures of education, constitutionally informed and locally driven. The main thing that the central government contributed was beautiful statements of what the purposes of education were.

So, I have said, once, to people who work in the Department of Education — who I’ve had the pleasure of not having to talk to very much, and fear I’ll have to talk to ’em more — I once said, “Well, you understand the Founders did something different than this, and they had a leg up on most people today.” “Oh, what was that?” I said, “Well, they had an education, so they knew what it was.” One should focus on questions like that.

People should focus on what practical judgment means. Well, it doesn’t mean choosing to be for God and nature. You have to be for those things. All good comes from the effort to be for those things. But that’s not the choice that’s presented to you.

You get to do A or B. And the hard choices, which are very common, always involve this: Both A and B are not so good, or else A and B are both good but they are mutually exclusive. The truth of a practical judgment is found in the details of the judgment. And the ultimate thing is the light you look at them by.

Featured Image Source: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times

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