January 21, 2016

What Should It Take To Become President?


After a post late last year, Are We Really So Afraid?, a reader asked me to develop a job description for the office of president. The silliness of the debates, the sound-bite approach to picking a leader for our country and the difficulty in finding information that hasn't been pushed through a particular political or social filter made this a fascinating request.

After all, someone who applies for a position of leadership in a large company must be able to prove why he or she has the experience and temperament to get the job done. For a position with as many direct consequences on our daily life, shouldn't there be as careful an examination for president?

If we look at the last several decades, the answer would seem to be, No. Our Chief Executive is picked on emotional reactions or ideological feelings, the ability to raise huge sums of money, and having powerful friends both inside and outside government. Experience in managing people, effective decision-making, the ability to compromise for the good of all, and a moral center that prohibits losing sight of who and what we are as a company (or country), are great for the CEO of Intel or Google but don't seem to be part of how we choose a president.

So, in all humility, I offer the following as a basic job description for the office holder of the U.S. Presidency. This list is not all inclusive, but maybe a good start for discussion:

1) Understand that the president is the leader of all 320 million of us. The politics that gets someone elected cannot prevent that person from governing in a way that benefits us all. Purely partisan decisions must be left behind when entering the White House. 

2) Understand that democratic governance often requires compromise. That is how our system is designed to function. Unless we are willing to adopt an autocratic form of government, there must be the ability and temperament to compromise. Sometimes unpopular, hard decisions are required. At other times, they are counterproductive.

3) Understand the United States is part of a world economy and collection of 195 countries. Many have no interest in being like us. Some actively dislike us. Some are our friends when it suits their interests, or ours. Maybe it worked in the past, but today we can no longer tell others what to do and expect them to toe the line. To protect our interests you may have to act in a way that makes others angry. At the same time, cooperation and recognizing the rights of others to make their own choices are essential skills. 

4) Understand that over the long haul building bridges works better than building walls, though sometimes the person with the biggest wall wins.

5) Understand how our system of government functions. Being an "outsider" is an attractive trait when some are angry at a dysfunctional establishment. Not having a strong knowledge of the rules of the game and how things are accomplished will lead to gridlock and a frozen system, or being taken advantage of in a way that puts all of us at risk.

6) Understand the geopolitical world situation. The mix of religions, ethnic groupings, history, changing alliances, and an inner-connected world is a complex system that does not respond to simple solutions.

7) Understand the history of the United States. How and why we were founded, the mistakes and accomplishments in our past, and the moral character our citizens believe in must guide decisions and leadership choices.

8) Understand that during your term you will face unending criticism from constantly shifting portions of the citizenry. You will have to make tough decisions that might be politically wrong, but ethically right. You will do things that some people hate, and some may love. You cannot take it personally. You are trying to lead a society that has become fragmented and ethnically diverse. You will never please everyone. Also, understand that in 4 or 8 years you will be out of a job. You are going to be replaced, so stay humble.


What did I overlook?

36 comments:

  1. Excellent! This should be the quiz just to throw a hat into the ring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It would be instructive if these points were the basis of questions at the so-called debates (which aren't really).

      Delete
  2. Bob Lowry for president!So far the preparations are a circus for both parties ,sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a horrible job. Thanks for the "vote" of confidence, Harry, but I respectfully decline.

      Delete
  3. Good list Bob, I think you covered it all. I recently labeled myself a "Don Quixote Dreamer". Maybe you should take on that mantra too (ha).

    Next on your agenda should be "What should it take to be a good citizen of the United States". We need that one maybe more importantly than this one...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent idea, RJ. I will put that on my upcoming post list.

      Delete
  4. All good items. But it reminds me of the quote that goes something like this: Democracy is a great way to run a country ... until you spend five minutes talking to the average voter. I know that sounds snobbish. But half the people who are hiring our next president believe in UFOs, use astrology to plan their lives, and think playing the lottery is a plausible way to get rich. So, in a democracy, people get for leaders exactly who they deserve. Actually, so far it's worked out pretty well. But I'm beginning to have my doubts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At least in my 66 years, I cannot remember ever having such a motley, dangerous, uninformed group running for office. If we can survive four or eight years of one of these as president then I guess our system can stand almost anything.

      Humans are too often controlled or motivated by emotions and fears. Politicians make a career out of playing to those baser traits. Is that our fault, or theirs? Good question.

      Delete
    2. Well, Bob, I don't think Hillary Clinton, or Jeb Bush or John Kasich for that matter, are dangerous or uninformed. The question is: Does it even matter?

      Delete
    3. Hillary tends to play loose and fast with the truth (in my opinion) and Jeb, like his brother, is in over his head. Mr. Kasich is the most reasonable of the bunch, but one out of a dozen or so on both sides of the aisle doesn't change my overall opinion!

      I am hoping it does matter, though I'd be hard pressed to argue why.

      Delete
  5. I'm thinking about Ronald Regan as president - the actor who became president. What qualifications landed him that position? Popular vote? There is more than one example of actors who participated in state and municipal government. If Trump is funding his own campaign, that could be very appealing to some - a candidate not obligated to the funders. Is there such a thing? Are political leaders altruistic or narcissistic?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally I think someone chooses to serve from a combination of altruism, narcissism, and a need for power to make changes (not necessarily a bad thing). Unfortunately, over time I think the system corrupts those motivations with altruism slipping way down the list. A politician must start running for reelection from almost the moment he or she is sworn in. That creates real problems.

      Regan followed a very dour, defeatist-sounding fellow, Jimmy Carter, with sunny optimism and a "our future is bright" approach. At least to this point Donald Trump is pretty much the opposite using fear, exclusion, and unspecific promises to fuel his run.

      Delete
    2. The difference between Trump and Reagan was that Reagan had been governor of California from '67 until '75. I think California is a microcosm of the US. We all can discuss if he did a good job, but he was very qualified.
      Trump---well---I just don't get it.

      Delete
  6. I agree with your list of qualifications. Perhaps someone should send the list to each of the so called candidates to peruse. I also agree that this year's presidential election leaves a lot to be desired in the way of choice. I am not looking forward to November to see who we must survive for the next 4 years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might be quite a ride, one that breaks a lot of the "rules" we have always assumed must apply.

      Delete
  7. Except LBJ- most of the Presidents of my lifetime were not clued in on how laws are made by people who seem to have a tight knot on the Senate and House. If only they had let Obama have the health care bill he wanted....
    Anyway, I think that knowledge that you are not above the law is important. That you put on your pants the same way 98% of the country does, is also something to think about.
    I think Bernie should be added to Tom's list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bernie is another fascinating difference in this race. In a normal election cycle he wouldn't even be part of the discussion. But, he has proven he has staying power and a message that strikes many as the one we need to hear right now. Feel the Bern!

      Delete
  8. Your list should be the required topics for the next political debate although I wonder if any of the candidates would have enough of an understanding to make intelligent opening statements.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Susan. The "debates" really aren't debates, they are just opportunities to slam the opposition and rehash talking points. I get very frustrated that follow up questions are rarely asked and candidates are free to ignore the initial question and give an "answer" to something else entirely. iF I had tried that in debating club in high school I wouldn't have lasted very long.

      Delete
  9. Great list, Bob. I especially like the way it emphasizes that running a democracy is NOT the same as running a corporation; corporations are most definitely not democracies. A knowledge of what democracy is, how government works, and a commitment to democratic government (and, yes, that means compromise) is a must. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The business of America is business" is a snappy phrase, but not even remotely accurate. You are so right: running a company is the antithesis of running a country.

      Delete
  10. Thanks Bob for laying out some great criteria. I am finding the emotional fever so polarizing I find it helpful to use these to talk with the people I *most* disagree with and try to find common ground.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How does that discussion work for you? I think that is a great idea and one that holds the potential for building the bridges I mentioned. Does it work? I am interested.

      Delete
  11. Our election system has devolved into a clown show and even if we could elect someone great (I do like your list of qualifications!), our Congress has also become so polarized I fear for our future. I'm feeling the Bern, but if by some miracle he were elected, I don't see how he'd get anything done. We would sit this one out, but we have to cast a vote against our crazy Congressman if only for show. He is in a tightly gerrymandered district and we've about given up hope of defeating him.
    --Hope

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Hope, Congress is a big part (probably the biggest part) of the "clown show" that has become our government. I am not a big fan of executive actions, but if Congress does nothing but block and frustrate, the chief executive has to do something he or she thinks is best for the country. We can't just spend 4 years staring at each other over the partisan divide and doing nothing.

      BTW, how many of us are as partisan as we are led to believe? Is the unbridgeable divide really only a characteristic of the fringes and the fanatics, or do the majority of Americans draw solid lines?

      Delete
    2. I am somewhat flexible and wish we could find a moderate position that made sense and moved us forward. I don't consider myself to be a super lefty, but there are GOP positions that are beyond the pale to me. My dear departed father was a lifelong Republican...he would never recognize the party now. Not an original thought, I know, as I have heard many others say the same.
      --Hope

      Delete
  12. I certainly agree with your list, but I think how it is packaged within any one individual is also important, i.e. how an individual presents and comports him or herself, not just as a politician, but as a person in general. I think I might call this factor "likabiilty."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, likeability is important. We tend to follow leaders who we can relate to and believe shares many of our values. The qualifications noted above means one is suited for the job, but personality issues determine whether that person achieves as much as he or she should.

      Thanks, B.E.

      Delete
  13. A year ago I thought Bernie was just a nice old man but he had no chance. I also felt Hillary had earned her position and had the chops to put it together. Alas, she is bogged down with a lot of baggage and may tank by the time votes are counted in NH.
    Bernie's staying power is impressive. What I find more impressive is the ages of his base. If he can bring the millennials to the polls I think that's a win in itself. We can no longer have our politics run by old white males with their hands in the pockets of wall street.
    Compared with the *ahem* leaders on the right, anyone on the left is fine by me.
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bernie's assent has been as remarkable as Mr. Trump's, though for very different reasons. This is the election that is breaking the rules.

      Big snowstorm in your immediate future? Looking for some photos on Facebook and Instagram.

      Delete
  14. Pretty good outline. Maybe we should have the candidates respond to it instead of questions with pat answers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not too sure some of them could, and I'm pretty sure most of them wouldn't!

      Delete
  15. An important skill for any aspiring leader of the free world is the ability to stand in front of the cameras and spin massive porkies as if they actually had some basis in reality.

    I wish I could say more, but I'm being pinned down by enemy fire as we speak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha...being able to stick to the script even in the face of reality is a key trait of success in the political world.

      Delete
  16. Good list, but lose the pulled punches. Last phrase of #4 guts the power of the main point. Also, I'd include the commitment to draw upon the best and brightest minds, regardless of political leanings. I would also require candidates to publish detailed position papers on the major issues of the day that would be available online for public study. These would have to be authored by the candidate, not by advisors, and verified independently as such.

    ReplyDelete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted