Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How we pick our Presidents

I’ve come to believe that most of what’s wrong with our country today stems from how we pick our politicians, from Mayor to President- and I don’t mean the electoral process, I mean how we, the voters, choose who we’ll vote for. To demonstrate this, I’m asking you to tell me the qualifications of your favorite candidates for President, within the following parameters:

Don’t tell me their positions. There are three reasons for this- first, positions are not qualifications; if they were, and you share those positions, you’d be equally qualified, wouldn’t you?

The second reason is that positions don’t tell you they can do, or will do, but only what they want. After all, Chamberlain wanted peace, and he didn’t get it. The lowliest Congressman has more say about whether a given position will be implemented than the President does; at least he can vote on it.

The third reason positions don’t matter is that no one knows what the issues will be during the next term, much less what the right position is. Notice that neither Gore nor Bush told us back in 2000 what they would do about the Patriot Act, or the Iraq War, or Hurricane Katrina.

Don’t tell me about their education. Contrary to popular belief, education does not impart wisdom- if it did, President Bush’s combined GPA and post-graduate degree would place him near the top in this century, ahead of Reagan, Eisenhower, and miles ahead of Truman. Don’t even speak to me to me about intelligence; again, contrary to popular belief, IQ doesn’t impart wisdom, either- according to this article recommended by Snopes , President Bush’s IQ is equal to JFK’s.

Do tell me about their character. George Washington said that character was the only important issue... but he didn’t mean “Does he go to church”, or “Is he a good husband”, or any of the other things that phrase has been twisted to mean in recent decades. He meant “How will the candidate react to the unexpected”, or as a modern politician once phrased it, “I am the most qualified to wing it.” The great challenges of almost any presidency are totally unexpected and cannot be prepared for; what in your candidate’s life leads you to believe that he/she will have the wisdom and courage to do the right thing in the face of an unexpected world class emergency?

Do tell me about his/her accomplishments. If in the legislature, what laws have they written and gotten passed? What positions of trust or leadership within Congress have they won? If in an executive position, how have they shown the type of character I described above? What do their careers in the private sector, if any, tell you?

Frankly, by the standards outlined above, the bullpens of both parties look pretty thin to me. I see several with charisma, which is a sort of qualification, I guess... but not necessarily a good one. I see some executive experience, but no governors from any state large enough to equate to a country. No one with any foreign affairs experience at a decision-level grade; no one who’s been a diplomat, or State Department head.

Nothing better displays the pitiful state of politics in America today than that with the Presidency wide open, no incumbent, no groomed for the job VP, no old war horse in waiting, we could have a list of candidates this long with no clear leaders on it. Never in the course of U.S. history have so many had so little to bring to so important a moment.


ms. kitty said...

Joel, this is marvelous! Thank you for pointing out the importance of character and achievement in our candidates. I'm going to print out your post and put it up on my bulletin board to reflect on further.

LaReinaCobre said...

An important factor for many is influence. How much influence will the person wield? You can have great ideas but who cares, if no one will listen to you?

I think right now, people look for who has power because we've been taught to believe that we (the people) don't have any.

Will said...

I honestly don't think any relatively well-balanced, centered, or sane person would want the job. Would you?

Joel Monka said...

Will, I think it may depend on your definitions of those words. If one has a calling, like a police officer or a teacher or priest, I'd say yes. If one is just on a power trip, no. But how does one differentiate between the two?

The founding fathers thought that political offices shouldn't come with a paycheck, only a per diem for expenses. They envisioned that a well-balanced, centered person would go about their lives first, make their place in the owrld, raise their families, then go into politics in their senior years as a service to the country.

A piece of my mind. said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels sucked dry by the leadership vacuum in our country. Not one of the current crop of candidates inspires me - most of them don't even rise to the lofty pinnacle of mediocrity.

What we need, and what I am looking for is to be INSPIRED by someone. I want to hear from someone who “gets it” . . . someone who has real courage of conviction and has the guts to set a new direction for this country and propose a plan for getting there that makes sense and doesn’t violate the basic principles of what this country is supposed to be about.

As to the “Qualifications” for the job, I don’t know if any of the “qualifications” you speak of (in the last couple paragraphs) even apply. In fact, if I was to disagree with anything you say, it might be that charisma would be a key qualification.

Executive Experience? This would be handy, but not an absolute requirement. Does the governorship of even a large or populous state like New York or California really compare with the responsibilities of the President? We’ve had some pretty ineffective presidents with such backgrounds. (Both the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his predecessor were multi-term governors, the incumbent being from the 2nd largest state in both size and population – neither of them inspire me with their executive leadership ability.)

Foreign Affairs Experience? What would this be, Secretary of State? Ambassador to a major country like Russia, the UK, or Japan? One’s performance in such a position might be an indicator of the ability to lead on the global stage, but I while many names of such people come to mind, I can’t say that any of them have an impressive enough record to recommend them.

The next President needs to be someone who can rise above their political party affiliation and focus themselves, the administration they lead, and the energy of this great country on solving the real problems we face rather than pandering to the agendas of influential voting constituencies. This will take both courage and charisma. Our economy is in shambles, our health care system is ineffective and not fully available to a significant portion of our population. We face a looming crisis in energy and transportation as the realities of globalization divert the oil that has fueled our economy to emerging nations – and we have no meaningful plan to deal with it. Our stature in the world and our ability to form alliances has been weakened by almost seven years of embarrassing cowboy diplomacy. Our military is bogged down refereeing a civil war that we largely created by invading another country with dubious (at best) justification, no concept of the political, cultural, or social morass we would create, and absolutely no plan for how to deal with it. At a time when we need to be strong we are, militarily, weaker and less prepared to deal with an actual threat than any time in the last century. At home we bicker along party lines, and entertain stupid ideas like amendments to ban gay marriage and abortion (why should these be the government’s business?), and focus an inordinate amount of attention on the misbehavior of so-called celebrities who need nothing so much as a good sound spanking and to be sent to their rooms - - - out of the public spotlight.

Who would I want to see become President right now?

I can’t think of a single person, announced candidate or other, who could fill these shoes.

That’s pretty scary.