I may be at the end of the series.
As I move on to a discussion of the presidential candidates, this is a good place to point out that people who actually make individual decisions that affect others are likely better at this than the rest of us, or they would have long since failed and been removed. People instinctively know this, which is why we have long favored governors over senators in presidential elections. In theory, senators know the subject matter of governance better than anyone (even journalists!), but seldom have the decision making experience of governors. I never fully bought that argument until writing this sentence. I thought it only a minor advantage. Similarly, Barack Obama has offered the running of his own campaign as an example of executive experience. I have found that circular and weak until writing this series. But a political campaign does require constant adjustment, an ability to mitigate the effects of bad luck and jump on good luck opportunities. Obama does seem to have adjusted well in the campaign. That does tell us something.
Joe Biden has shown little ability to adjust to changing circumstances or question his own wisdom. I find nothing of interest more to say.
I am tempted to the stereotype that the younger candidates will be the more adaptable, but I doubt it holds generally. Palin has changed course, adapting to the opportunities that present themselves. She seems to have started more as a religious reformer, redirected that to anti-corruption, with a strong thread of economic freedom throughout. She has adjusted quickly to the new role of being national inspirer rather than local decision-maker. In that change, however, she has been mostly following directions, taking other people’s word for what adjustments must be made. That’s not a bad thing – seeking advice when you don’t know the ground is certainly wise – but it isn’t the same thing as independently recognising a need for change and formulating a plan.
Obama, as I mentioned, has made adjustments on the fly these eighteen months. Even if that comes primarily from his advisors he still deserves the credit – he hired them. We have not seen what Obama would do if faced with dramatic changes, but we seldom get to observe that in anyone before electing them. I am sidestepping the issue of flip-flops on all candidates here. Those are adjustments, but are so confounded by the political calculations around them that we cannot tell whether the candidate is making a reality adjustment or a campaign adjustment. We are giving partial credit for adjusting at all. Barack has also made personal changes, not only giving up drugs and deciding to be a real student, but deciding that community organising wasn’t creating the societal changes he hoped for and going into electoral politics. There are some indicators of adaptability here.
McCain is a more mixed picture. Advocating for the surge, the biggest policy rethinking of the decade to date, is his calling card. It worked. Another big-ticket item was his campaign finance reform, which didn’t. In both cases, he soldiered on in the face of criticsm and was willing to go against prevailing wisdom. We’re not grading on success but on adaptability here, remember. He otherwise tends to gravitate to pretty typical solutions. OTOH, he was willing to go well outside the box in his campaign, considering Lieberman for a fusion ticket and then settling on Palin. He adjusted to being a POW, but only slowly to being back in civilian life. He adjusted to being a Senator in the minority party but didn’t do as well with his party in the majority. I would say that he adjusts, but slowly.
The ranking would be Obama slightly ahead of Palin and McCain, with all three showing different types of adaptability. Biden is not even submitted for ranking.
As I'm really guessing here, I encourage other data I hadn't considered.