Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Presidency of the United States

I just watched the debate. And I watched the VP debate last week. Here's the thing. The President of the United States must be a visionary. He must see the country as it should be, and then strive to make it so. It's this whole thing about "experience" that I don't understand. I mean, experience doing what? Being president? As far as I can tell, there is no job in the world that gives a person "experience" with the types of decisions required of the President of the United States. What other job requires a decision about whether to exert the entire military might of the most powerful nation in the world in a given situation? What other position brings with it the sole responsibility for the welfare of an entire nation, and a nation as diverse and great as this one? While the actual welfare of the nation is likely outside the control of the president, he is the one held responsible for it. Who else can launch nuclear missiles? While I admire Senator McCain: his service to the country, his patriotism, and even his dedication to the American People, I don't get the point of his tallying up voting records. And I don't believe that he has the vision required of the next president. How much "experience" did John F. Kennedy have? How much did Reagan have? F.D.R.? George Washington?

Electing anyone, whether known in politics or not, is a risk. While you may know what they did previously, you will never know what they will do in that round room when the proverbial phone rings at 3 a.m. until it actually happens. I don't care how close you are to what is going on in the Oval Office, until it's your decision, it's just not the same. I think the thing is, the President must have the inherent ability to listen to advice from the Joint Chiefs, the House and Senate, his Cabinet, and anyone else he sees fit; he must then process the monumental amount of information at his disposal, and make the right decision, whether it polls well or not. He must do so with the welfare of the American People always at the forefront of his decision, and he must do so with as full as possible an understanding of the global consequences of any course of action.

Another thing the President must do, that seems to be often overlooked these days, is that he must be the standard-bearer for the United States of America. He must give the People confidence in this country, and the core values upon which it was founded: the unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all. He must also be able to convey this to American citizens and to the world. The President must have a certain...gravitas.

These are unquantifiable things. The citizens of this country have made good decisions in this regard, and bad ones. I have a soft spot for Woodrow Wilson. He was a great visionary. However, he lacked the second requirement: the ability to convey to others what in the world he was talking about. No one could get behind him or his plans, because no one could understand what his goal was, or why. Other presidents have had the opposite problem: they were all about charisma, and people were completely behind them, but they never ended up actually leading anywhere.

My favorite president in American history? Well, I like Taft, but more on a empathetic level, than as a great president. He was never cut out for that job. But yet, he "busted" more trusts than the "Trust-Buster" (Teddy Roosevelt). He wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, never president. (His wife and mother ganged up on him to make him run. Twice!) He was a jurist. He liked figuring out fine points of the law, and making case-by-case decisions. He didn't like the publicity, pressure, or the grey areas of leading a country. He didn't like that his decisions affected so many people. He finally got to be a Supreme Court Justice! Under Coolidge, I think.

The greatest president in American history? Easy. Lincoln. Why? He was a rags-to-riches story. The epitome of the American Dream. And he was perfect for that job, in that time. In another time, I don't know. But he made many monumental, and often unpopular decisions. Those decisions both kept the country in one piece, and righted an unconscionable wrong that had pervaded through centuries. By the way, how much experience did he have upon assuming the presidency? I think a term in Congress? I leave you with that.