I did not watch the CPAC proceedings, but heard on the radio that Scott Walker was ‘rough around the edges.’ The contrast was made between the patently clear ‘gotcha’ game that was played by the media, asking Walker questions about evolution and Obama’s religion, and fact that this was an entirely sympathetic audience. Conservatives have now weighed in, advising Walker to get himself up to speed ASAP if he wants to remain credible.
There is a premise underlying this kind of talk here that we should not accept. Indeed, we should reject it. In fact, we should consider ourselves at war with it. This premise, if accepted and allowed full expression, represents the complete and final death of any notions of self-governance. That is to say, accepting the premise undermines the whole conservative outlook that views normal, average, Americans as capable of managing their own lives.
Far more important than having the ‘right answers’ and being able to opine on every arcane aspect of public policy, history, philosophy, science, etc, is possessing good judgement. Having good judgement certainly requires being well-grounded in reality as reality really is, and obviously we want our leaders to be in touch with reality. But having good judgement also requires having rock-solid guiding principles. If we had to choose between ‘expertise’ and ‘guiding principles’, I will choose ‘guiding principles’ every time.
And you should, too.
Let’s first tackle the logical side of the question.
First of all, logic is one of those things that every human has the capacity to exercise, and it is by no means guaranteed that someone who is an ‘expert’ in this or that is a logical, rational, person. He may have mastery of the data and mastery of the ‘literature,’ but he may, in fact, be a dolt. Indeed, if you ever want to be entertained, when an expert tries to play the “I’m an expert” card, just ask them what they think about the views of Dr. SuchandSuch, who has drawn the exact opposite conclusion. For every Dr. ImAnExpert there is a Dr.SuchandSuch, and they each think the other is a complete dolt. Thus, all experts agree that you can be an expert and still be a dolt.
Every person, therefore, is permitted to think carefully about the arguments being presented. It is possible in many cases to detect an illogical and irrational argument without knowing all the underlying technical mumbo-jumbo, simply by being a critical thinker.
Experience also tells us that not one of us is omniscient. Experts themselves like to point this out when at war with other experts, for example by declaring that the person is “talking outside their field.” Despite the fact that none of us is omniscient, and despite the fact that it is not possible to find an expert to speak to every issue we may wrestle with each day, we nonetheless have to find a way to survive. Amazingly, most of us do survive. By relying on our experience, common sense, and principles that conform to reality (at least in good approximation), we manage to cook dinner, navigate freeways, put on our socks, or conclude that our local town cannot afford a five trillion dollar public works project.
It is not that we do not avail ourselves of experts here and there along the way, or that we do not educate ourselves. It is just a simple logistical reality that we cannot know everything before we act, but we must act.
No matter how educated and informed any candidate is, they will still be ignorant of certain, important, possibly relevant factors. They can rely on experts all day long, and become an expert themselves in all things, and they will still be ignorant of important, possibly relevant factors. But they will still have to act. They will still have to make a decision.
Principles will necessarily have to be the bridge. If someone has bad guiding principles, the consequences are predictably bad. If someone has good guiding principles, they will make a good decision most of the time.
Therefore, it is more important to have good, core principles, than it is to have knowledge and expertise.
One of good guiding principles is to seek to try to make informed decisions and seek out reliable sources of information, so a person with good guiding principles will do due diligence before they act. But one does not have to attain ‘expert’ status on an issue before one acts. The thing cannot even be done.
I have previously warned my conservative readers to be wary of the argument that says, “But our government is so big, so complicated, and so sophisticated, that we need highly sophisticated managers to operate it. Responsible government needs expertise.” If the government is so big that average, ordinary, Americans can manage and oversee it, isn’t the right conclusion, from a conservative’s point of view, to radically scale back the scope of government so ordinary Americans can manage and oversee it?
Now lets talk about the ‘ethical’ side of the equation.
I speak in particular of the fact that an expert may have a mastery of the content of his subject area, but it doesn’t follow that he is an expert moral agent. That is to say, it is generally accepted by just about all thoughtful people that “you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.'” For example, if you are an expert on hammers–their constitution, production, and use–it doesn’t follow that you are specially equipped to determine if you should smash someone to death with a hammer. To put it more bluntly: an expert can be evil.
Just as everyone is theoretically capable of exercising their logical faculties, so too is everyone theoretically capable of acting morally and ethically. No special expertise is necessary, or even possible. Moreover, there is just as much dissension about what constitutes ‘good’ morality as anything else. One person says it is morally permitted, indeed, obligatory, to take wealth from the rich and distribute it to the poor, and further that to reject this makes you selfish and evil, while another says this is stealing, and stealing is wrong.
Now, it is not necessary, or even possible, to anticipate every way in which the ‘re-distribution of wealth’ may be presented now or in the future before one can formulate a moral judgement on it, in principle. Once again, educating oneself will greatly aid this process, but eventually a decision will come down to a straight-up moral assessment, which no expert can address conclusively or authoritatively. The only possible expert here is God, and his existence is much disputed. That means that the rest of us have to do the best we can.
This being the reality, it then becomes much more critical that someone has a solid moral core than that they have a wealth of knowledge about this or that particular issue. Or, to put it another way, if you had a choice between an evil expert and a good, average person, the choice is clear. This, by the by, is true whether or not you are liberal or conservative. Each paradigm views aspects of the other paradigm as immoral, and the fact that one representative of the paradigm is an ‘expert’ does not change the fact that the expert is considered immoral.
Now, conservatives theoretically understand this, at least philosophically speaking. That’s why they, theoretically, prefer that people make most decisions for themselves, since, theoretically, they think that most people are able to make moral decisions for themselves. Yet, more attention is paid to the ‘credentials’ of our candidates than their guiding principles, their moral foundation, and the degree in which the candidates stated principles and moral precepts are consistent with the candidate’s actions.
Scott Walker is not becoming popular among conservatives because of his great knowledge and expertise, but because for the first time in a long time, we have a possible candidate that not only shares our values but actually acts on them.
To say that conservatives have felt let down on this score is an understatement, to say the least.
And let’s just think about where ‘expertise’ has got us, shall we?
What experience did that Harvard genius, Barack Obama, have before getting elected? Did he have great expertise? Prove it: What was his GPA at Harvard and/or Columbia, again? Anyone have a peek at his dissertation? I for one would like to see his brilliance with my own eyes!
He won his first election as a state senator by running unopposed–he used technicalities to remove his opponents from the ballot. He then spent most of his time voting ‘present.’ He probably had his eye on the presidency the entire time, and didn’t want to generate ammunition for his future opponents. (He did, however, take very chance he had to show he was about as pro-choice as one could be.) He spent just a year or so as a US senator before running for the president.
He certainly had NO expertise governing, which Scott Walker has in spades. Obama certainly had expertise in conniving, manipulating, and ruthless activism, along with whatever his academic credentials actually are.
The truth is that regardless of Obama’s expertise or his use of other experts in governing, it is Obama’s guiding principles and his moral foundation that has caused most of the trouble and generated most of the alarm. Never mind those who have defected from the Obama camp, conservatives at least should recognize that the fact that Obama is smart and intelligent (presumably) does not in anyway redeem Obama’s lawless conduct. From using executive orders that flatly violate the law to employing sinister and Machiavellian methods to get his health care law passed (eg, highlighted by the admissions of that ‘expert’ Jonathan Gruber), it is clear that it is Obama’s moral code that is having the most impact. It is Obama’s guiding principles that are doing the damage. It is Obama’s ethical outlook (Saul Alinksy’s ethical outlook, as it happens) that is undermining the Republic.
This is the reality.
If Scott Walker does not yet have the ‘expertise’ of that Scholar-in-the-White-House, I say great. And I dare say I hope he never does have that expertise. It is precisely the fact that Scott Walker has a good head on his shoulders and is not an elitist that is one of his greatest selling points, and probably our greatest hope of saving the country.
We should reject the ‘progressive’ premise that experts should run the asylum and turn the country over to someone with good principles who we have good reason to think will continue to act on those principles. This means, probably, cutting the size of the Federal government by 90%. I don’t know if Walker is quite that brave, but compared to someone like Jeb Bush, there is at least a chance.
Walker should say, “Let me research that a little more and get back to you.” And then do it. And conservatives should welcome that approach. We certainly should not be feeding this toxic notion that we should be ruled by technocrats.