At its core, public policy is supposed to the serve greater good, and no political party or ideology has a monopoly on good or bad ideas. Many politicians are elected and strive to do the best they can, while others seek only to better themselves. Every aspect of politics has positives and negatives, but two key elements, the policies and the politicians, define the outcome. I have often debated with myself and others about which is more important, the policies being advocated or those doing the actual advocating. Despite the conflict in my head, I can feel the truth in my gut that those we elect to represent us are more important than the policies themselves.
While policy is important, and the goals set in a piece legislation are not something to be ignored, the overall principles largely do not change. What is important are the details of individual pieces of policy and legislation, that are often decided through negotiation and compromise between politicians. Politicians who serve the constituents and their principles, or at least try to make the best decision in a situation with only bad options, will serve their constituents and nations well, even if every choice they make is not the right one. On the other hand, politicians only looking towards the next election, while likely not destroying the country will still weaken it, and leave a widening partisan and moral gap in the governance of our society.
I am someone who, generally speaking, leans from a moderate to a progressive viewpoint on politics. I would far rather have an honest, honourable, moral conservative or socialist in office than someone who holds my exact views but is morally and politically corrupt. It is as simple as knowing that, while the politician who does not share my values is less likely to pursue or implement policies that favour my political leanings, a politician with integrity beyond the parameters of party policy can be trusted to uphold democratic norms and maintain the public interest above all else. Meanwhile, I may love the policies that the immoral candidate stands for but I can neither trust that politician, once in office, to implement those policies or to maintain the basic democratic principles which make up the foundation of citizens’ faith in the integrity of government.
A perfect example of why it is more important to vote based on who is running than on what their exact ideology is, is the incumbent President of the United States, Donald Trump. Despite evidence of corruption and his lack of a moral compass, Trump ultimately won the election because conservative voters in the United States decided to vote based on the policies they believed he would implement over his apparent fitness (or lack thereof) for office. The consequences of this choice based on stated policy versus apparent integrity of the candidate are that the world is under threat from Trump’s erratic behaviour and many crisis or potential crisis are going unsolved. Furthermore, burdened by the corruption and incompetence and corruption he has failed to pass a significant portion of the legislation he promised his voters, whether it is health care reform, a massive jobs program, the construction of the border wall, or the backfiring of his trade war.
The flip side of this is seen in Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama. Obama was elected because of who he was and the change his evident integrity, intelligence, and optimism represented. Because of his positive character qualities, he was able to provide competent management for the world's most powerful economy during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He was able to make changes to healthcare, foreign policy, and the economy, even when, for most of his time in office, the opposition controlled the legislative branch of the United States and actively worked to thwart many of his measures .
Politicians and policy are both essential factors to consider when casting your ballot.
However, despite the importance of policy, it is far more important to consider the quality of the people for whom we cast our votes above every detail of the policies they support.
Jonah Van Driesum is a third year Politics student and the Vice-President Programming of the Acadia Politics Students’ Association