April 9, 2015

1175 words 6 mins read

The Greater of Two Goods

You know the feeling.

You support someone for office. Call this person Candidate A. You’re all in. You’ve told your friends about this great person.

Then another candidate jumps in to oppose your candidate. Let’s call this person Candidate B. This insurgent has great qualifications. You campaigned for Candidate B in another race a few years ago. You’ve talked him up. In the past, told your friends to vote for Candidate B.

Now what do you do?

The Usual Political Playbook

Politics-as-usual has a simple play for this situation: vilify Candidate B. Smear him. Talk about his weaknesses. Imply some dalliances. Impugn his character. In short, destroy that s.o.b.!

That’s how the political game works. Consultants like to say that politics ain’t bean bags. You step into that arena, expect to have trackers follow your 12-year-old daughter home from school to catch video of her taking a drag off a cigarette in her friend’s backyard.

That’s politics-as-usual. And it’s why half the people don’t vote and why many good people don’t run.

The Other Playbook

There’s another playbook.

It’s hard to follow. It requires overcoming one’s knee-jerk response to a challenge. This other playbook is for people who aspire to a higher purpose, a cause bigger than themselves and their party.

As a guy who’s been accused of chest-pounding over trivialities, I can tell you that practicing self-control ain’t easy. Especially in politics. We’re wired to let our baser instincts run amok. We’re wired to swat flies and scratch itches. We’re wired to do unto others before they do unto us.

But what if we acted like grown-ups and overrode our default behaviors? What if we took the advice of Marcus Aurelius and the stoics instead of Machiavelli and the Medici?

(Did you know that Machiavelli’s The Prince was 100 percent satire? Some scholars believe it was. Others, not so much.)

We can live by a higher playbook. We can.

Lincoln and Trumbull

In 1854, Abraham Lincoln was the leading candidate for US Senate from Illinois. In those days, the state legislature elected Senators.

Lincoln received the most votes in the first six ballots. But a small cadre of Illinois State Senators made it clear they would not vote for Lincoln under any conditions.  Then, Lincoln withdrew and threw his support to Lyman Trumbull, the eventual winner of the three-way race.

Lincoln’s motivation was simple: he preferred Trumbull to the other guy, and he knew the handful of anti-Lincoln Senators would be okay with voting for Trumbull. They wanted to vote for the winner.

Lincoln’s loss in 1854 devastated his supporters who made Trumbull their villain, but Lincoln made Trumbull a US Senator. Trumbull had only 16 votes before Lincoln handed over his own supporters to Lyman, giving Lincoln’s former rival the 51 needed for victory.

In turn, Trumbull helped secure support for Lincoln over Douglas. The rest is history.

Welcome to the Race, John Brunner

You knew this was leading to something, didn’t you?

On Maundy Thursday, St. Louis businessman and former US Senate candidate John Brunner threw his hat into the ring for Governor. As an unwavering supporter of Eric Greitens, the usual playbook says I’m supposed to now detail all of Brunner’s character flaws, intellectual weaknesses, and moral failings.

But I refuse.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Mr. Brunner. He is a fine man with an excellent history. He built a thriving business that employs many people. His political philosophy is at least as sound as my own, and much better educated.

Politically, you could not squeeze a dime between Brunner’s thinking and mine. The only difference I know of is in the past: the necessity of the Cold War. (I am a latter day fusionist; Brunner is not.) And it involves foreign policy, which is of little import to the governor of a state.

While Brunner’s entry into the race increases the challenge for Eric Greitens, I don’t worry.

I don’t worry because this race epitomizes the real meaning of “it ain’t bean bags.” Politics is difficult because it should attract numerous candidates of high character and superior ability. Not because it’s open season for low insults and character assassination.

But there’s something more here.

In the 2016 Republican race for Governor, Missourians will choose, not between the lesser of two evils, but between the greater of two goods.

John Brunner and Eric Greitens are both good men of high character and significant achievement. Either man would improve Missouri’s condition and raise the quality of debate. Both men want what’s best for their state and their country and the people who live here. And both have and will sacrifice personal comfort and wealth to achieve a higher purpose.

While Brunner and Greitens might be similar, they are not the same.

John Brunner has been on the political stage since at least 2011. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for US Senate, coming in second, behind Todd Akin and just ahead of Sarah Steelman.

In that Senate race, Brunner energized many young people who shared his (and my) libertarian view of the world. But that libertarian vote wasn’t enough to beat Akin.

Many conservatives and libertarians hoped Mr. Brunner would seek McCaskill’s seat  in 2018. Or, even better, he might take on Roy Blunt next year in a GOP showdown that would pit a conscious conservative against a foggy opportunist.

So many of us were surprised to learn Brunner was thinking about running for governor. His attention has always seemed in Washington, not Jefferson City.

Still, I think Brunner would make an able governor. I think he’d make an even better Senator. But I don’t think John Brunner would stand a chance against presumed Democrat nominee, Chris Koster.

Capable Isn’t Enough

While John Brunner might make a capable governor were Koster to implode, that’s not enough for me.

I want something more.

I want a transformational leader who inspires common people like me to become better versions of ourselves. And the only candidate in the race who can inspire greatness in the people he touches is Eric Grietens.

See, chief executives are not just decision-makers and policy wonks. A thorough reading of history and economics might be necessary for a governor, but they are not enough. A governor, like a president, must lead. He must inspire people to improve themselves.

I told you that Eric Greitens–whom I’ve met exactly once in my 51 years on earth–inspired me to apologize to a man I had criticized. I have an ego, people. Saying “I’m sorry,” isn’t a natural behavior for me. (Ask anyone who’s been married to me.)

I believe that Missouri and Missourians want and need more in a governor than an able executive. We want and need a leader who inspires us to become our best-possible selves.

Yes, we want jobs and money and good homes. We also want to earn them.

The primary election next year will be a choice between the greater of two goods.

In the race for governor, Eric Greitens is the greater good.