McNeely’s test for politicians
While some people already have their minds open to considering new possibilities and people and ideas and ways of thinking, others are already locked down. Few of them will probably read this column, but I wish they would.
Years ago, after a decade of covering politics and politicians, I began to realize that a good public service record often had little to do with ideology, and more with personality and honesty. Over time, I developed some rough criteria for judging politicians.
I shamelessly used as a departure point the Rotary Club’s Four-Way Test. It led to McNeely’s Four-Way Test for Politicians.
The Rotary Four-Way Test uses these criteria to judge things:
1) Is it the truth:
2) Is it fair to all concerned?
3) Will it build good will and better friendships?
4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Noble rules, and most apply to political actions. But they didn’t quite pertain to judging politicians, so I developed my own.
The McNeely Four-Way Test in some ways is stiffer, in some ways less so. It asks these questions:
1) Does the politician hold the public’s interest ahead of his or her own?
While I recognize politicians need some ego to seek office in the first place, I would like to think that their primary goal is public service. They must take their own interests into account, but not unduly at the expense of the public. Fifty-one percent of public interest over private will get it done; more is better.
2) Has the politician expended some intellectual effort in deciding how government should operate?
I prefer people in office who have thought about the relationship between the governors and the governed, and what government should seek or be expected to do, over knee-jerks who adopt without question the opinions of others.
I even respect politicians whose conclusions I disagree with, if they have reached them after honest consideration -- such as the late former U.S. Sen. John Tower and current U.S. Rep. Ron Paul -- more than those sympathetic to my positions who blindly follow someone else. Although this does not prevent well-meaning people from having dumb ideas, I’d at least like them to think about it.
3) Would i trust this person with my life?
Here I raise the stakes a little. This is a more stringent version of Rule No. 1. It means that a politician, faced with a decision that could have grave consequences for me and mine, should take that into account.
It literally can mean life or death when deciding whether to send troops into another country, to declare war, to spend money on safety aspects of a space program.
It is less dramatic, but only slightly less important, when a politician proposes programs to improve early childhood education programs but won’t support taxes to pay for them. It involves telling the truth, and doing what is right.
4) Does the politician have a sense of humor -- especially that extends to himself or herself?
This has more to do with how well politicians will wear – and frankly, whether I’m going to enjoy dealing with them over time.
I think public servants are more endurable, and make wiser and more compassionate decisions, if they at least occasionally have a light touch, and take themselves less seriously than they take their jobs.
Politicians can fail this one and still be wonderful public servants -- such as former U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough, who wasn’t given much to laughing at himself (or current Texas state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the no-nonsense legislator who has chaired the Senate Finance Committee through rough times).
On the other hand, there are some politicians, including some running now, who meet Rule No. 4 wonderfully, but have trouble with the other three. In those cases, I’ll take the humorless but earnest public servant over the funny politician who is short on moral fiber.
So there it is. The test is by no means perfect, and leaves out a lot of things. But it gives some important criteria by which to judge politicians in the coming year. Think about it.
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.