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It should come as no surprise during this economic downturn, that a good number of politicians are touting their business acumen as a reason to elect them to office. Certainly Mitt Romney tried this tack during the last presidential election cycle.

The last CEO of the WWF, Linda McMahon, is purportedly interested in running for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by CT senator Chris Dodd. One of her arguments, is that she, while having no political experience, is an experienced business woman, something which is particularly useful today.

And I scratch my head and wonder. Is that true? Is that what we need? An “expert” in economic matters?

Common sense might suggest otherwise. It seems quite clear that our present financial woes stem from the unbridled lust and greed of oh too many business types, who were simply in utter error when it came to understanding good versus bad business practices. They over extended their companies assets in pursuit of high risk returns which led to unbelievable and immoral bonuses and profit margins, which no doubt benefited stockholders, but were mostly designed to benefit themselves.

I’m not sure we need more of that in Washington.

In fact, I would argue that what we need in Washington is precisely that which someone like Obama offers: the ability to critically think and to evaluate “expert” opinion. That quality seems in rather short supply, around both Washington and the country at large.

I went to what my parents and the parents of my friends, certainly considered an above average high school. For its size, there were essentially three tracks available to us as students–college prep, business, and blue collar. We had plenty of sports, music, art, wood shop and auto repair, home ec, as well as the usual English lit, history, math, science, and civics classes.

But I can say, that there was little attempt to teach us how to think. Mostly we were expected to memorize dates, places, times, people, processes, formulas, and such. We were not to question our sources. We were to learn them. I suspect this is relatively true in most high schools, most middle schools and so forth, but for the unique and wonderful exception that some of us are blessed to encounter here and there.

College can be little better I suspect, though there is a greater attempt at instilling the skills necessary to critically analyze and evaluate sources. At least in some disciplines. But still, its more an effort at giving information which is to be ingested and regurgitated at testing time, or put into play with various term paper assignments.

It was not until I began studying theology and biblical studies at the graduate level, that I was introduced to the art and discipline of reading critically. It means actually thinking about what one is reading for starts, and asking the question, is this logical? Does this follow? Is this conclusion justified based on the evidence presented?

It continues in evaluating the credentials of the writer, and determining as best one can, what world view he/she is coming from. What assumptions, likes, predispositions, and so forth does the writer start with, and build upon? Do I agree with these? Why or why not?

It also, most importantly, requires one to assess one’s own lens–what assumptions, presumptions, and so forth do I operate from? This is as important, if not more so to discern that where the writer is coming from.

I cannot state more emphatically how important rational dispassionate thinking is. It is what allows us not to miss opportunities to make correct decisions. It is what is so sadly lacking in our basic high school educations, and is, I submit, part of the reason that a segment of our society is prone to beliefs that are illogical and are the product of the mini demagogue.

That is why, you find people linking you to  sites that back up their opinions, and the sites are completely devoid of any basis by which the reader should trust the naked opinion of the writer. It is why we are invited to watch a UTube video as “proof” or a website that is devoted to a very clear point of view.

This is not to say that every site that is passionately devoted to a  “side” is not to be examined, but that it is done so with a modicum of realization that the writer has a “position” on the issue and is not particularly unbiased. Their sourcing becomes critical in determining whether their opinion is worth anything to us. And when we find sites that seem to be based on good critical thinking and research, we offset it to some degree with sites that offer other voices.

While we laugh and chuckle at the silly places people come up with information from, we must realize that to them, this information is correct. It tends to corroborate their inclinations. As I’ve said before, the fact that Stewart, Colbert, Olbermann and others “correct” the blatant lies told by Fox, does nothing when the people who worship at the feet of Fox don’t read or watch anything else. They remain blithely unaware that there is substantial evidence that their conclusions are outrageously wrong.

I am interested in candidates who have the ability to think critically. I am only interested that they are bright and thoughtful enough to know where to look for the experts who can advise them. And I am looking for someone who can evaluate the expert, giving due weight to opinions that are based on solid evidence.

I don’t need in the end, a president who is an economist. I need him or her to be wise enough to find good economists to listen to and be guided by. I guess its probably asking too much to expect future politicians to show me their critical thinking skills. But that’s what we need in Washington, more than anything else.

Just sayin’.

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