More twisted than a contortionist on a stripper pole. That’s what we ask of our politicians. Politics is a profession rife with challenges. Most colleges have a full course of study directed toward understanding the history and dynamics of American governance.
As in any profession, there are many who serve honorably but some who do not. On the whole, our republic has survived due the efforts of noble public servants.
We have elected five military men to the presidency, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army plus four other generals, who were not previously involved with elected politics. It appears that leading within the military complex readies participants for the challenges of political involvement. The military also serves as a springboard into less lofty elected politics. Many of our representatives served as enlisted men and women prior to seeking office. The military has proven to be a good training ground for public service.
Most of the other 39 presidents-in-waiting came straight out of the Senate, governors’ offices, or by taking the next step into the Oval Office from the vice president’s chair. Only five came from the cabinet; three of them Founding Fathers who served as Secretary of State, and two; notably Abraham Lincoln, from the House of Representatives.
There are elements of private sector management and leadership that can partially prepare an aspirant for the presidency and its far-reaching job description. But, the oceanic width of experience, understanding, and expectations of domestic and foreign policies makes the leap from private industry to the alpha public sector job one we-the-people have not chosen to bestow on anyone to date.
In my opinion, it would not be a good idea to start now.
Our candidates are publically placed under a microscope so their every word and deed can be micro analyzed. They face scrutiny for what they have either said or on which they have acted from the time they left the cradle. They get chastised for not being conservative or liberal enough, or for being too much so. They get railed at for embracing war, or not. They are forced to expose their opinions on personal and religious matters that belong strictly within the confines of each American family. They are asked to categorically state their stance on every issue as if they were gospel, but, when elected, expected to represent the whims of every American. They are beaten up if they are too rigid and slapped silly if they flip-flop a vote in favor of public opinion.
And, oh my, rue the day that an office seeker commits a human error!
The job is duo-faceted with the faces looking in opposite directions. One skill set is the ability to get elected–acting the politician. This is the whirlwind, sleepless period that requires being a people person; being able to connect to the masses, gain their trust and even love before ever taking action in office. Anyone seeking the presidency must be brash enough to think that 60 million voters will choose him or her. Being convincing as an ego-driven, hand shaking, baby kissing, ever smiling, motivational speaking, rigid political theorist is what gets candidates elected.
Once in office the job slows and becomes one of compromise–acting the governor/ness. After taking the oath, governing requires thoughtful, ego-free debate that calls for a balancing act between embracing the greater good and promises made from beliefs in strict political theory. Solving problems mitigates party loyalty once the votes are counted. Being good at governing often comes back to bite candidates when they seek reelection.
There are only a few politicians in our history who have been master of both skill sets. Former President Bill Clinton may have been the best pure politician in 100 years. FDR and his cousin Teddy Roosevelt are challengers for that title. That doesn’t mean that they were universally beloved–they were not. It also does not mean the other presidents were poor performers. It means that most were much better at one facet or the other. JFK was a people magnet, but he lacked skills to get a lot of legislation passed. Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan are similar personalities. LBJ was a cheat at campaigning and a bore as a person, but had the skills to get a mosquito passed through the legislature. Nixon ran the government smoothly until being a deeply flawed and egocentric individual caught up with him.
Washington, Jefferson, and Eisenhower are examples of pure leaders. With a few notable exceptions, our presidents have all had magnificent brains. The first five presidents were Founding Fathers who single handedly created our nation. Lincoln had an IQ that was off the charts. Wilson was president of Princeton. Taft was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court–Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner. T. R., Wilson, Carter, Obama (and Al Gore, a near miss) all won Nobel Peace Prizes. Clinton was a Rhodes scholar.
So, when you get the urge to yell at your television screen and call one or the other of the candidates an idiot, or worse, in reality their fatal flaw is simply not agreeing with you. Remember, we are asking them to be the Yin and Yang–Venus and Mars–decaf and espresso.
Voters need to do better. Our job is to be as sage as we wish our politicians to be. Of our 537 federally elected officials, we seem to have put in office many who are good at campaigning, but not nearly enough who are also interested in governing. We must study and understand the full range of responsibilities of an elected official. Look past the election season rhetoric and imagine the candidate governing. Finally, finish the deal by voting your informed conscious. Only voters can keep America great.