Presidential Race

Like iron filings to a magnet, Republican presidential candidates are being pulled to New Hampshire. That most foolish and simultaneously most realistic quadrennial exercise in TV and radio advertising overkill, flesh pressing, baby kissing, political puffery, and question evasion looms near. Along with death and taxes, it should be added to the few verities of life. There are those who feel this year's campaign will be doleful, and they are probably right. But it must unfold to its inexorable end.

What Americans continually do, in ignorance of the astute way our founding fathers set up this unique, three-branched government, is to seek a strong leader, a Moses if you will, to lead them out of the personal morass and political wilderness in which they dwell. The fettered presidency could not, even with the strongest of leaders, lead us anywhere: our system is intended to be slow moving, it is intentionally inefficient, full of checks and balances, and intolerant of Kings. Peoples' hopes for delivery by one man, let us call it presidential salvation, are almost humorous. At the least, they are groundless. Wise men look within themselves and to divine Providence for salvation. Fools look everywhere else.

A little reflection will tell us America's system was deliberately based on the concept of human imperfection. It comprehends and implements its policies by knowing the judgment of any one man cannot be trusted as fully as a working compromise between many men of differing views. We did not then nor do we now want a Caesar, an annointed King, a tyrant, or dictator.

Beyond that, our process of choosing a president tends to eliminate those with overtly strong personalities, people who must invariably have their own way. Elected presidents are pliable, men who are able to flexibly endorse the results of recent opinion polls. Unbending principle is a luxury few of them can afford. The candidate is the titular head of a large team that excels at manipulating the media in fifteen second sound bite snatches. Physically, the winners are men with great vitality who both look "Presidential", and are successful at offending the least number of people. Personality helps, but is not essential. All things being equal, voters seem to prefer men who radiate a presence, a mythical aura called charisma. Most of this mystique is pompous bunk, sheer hocum of the kind H. L. Mencken loved to prick.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

It not unkind nor untrue to say all men have feet of clay. The Catholic Church, which has over a thousand years experience in the business of separating saints from sinners, takes hundreds of years before it cannonizes the worthy. Can we expect to expedite the process while the people still live? Let's be honest. We pick the best we can from the few who obtain the huge but necessary financial backing, survive intense media scrutiny and exposure, and who hire the most clever marketing and political operative advisers.

America's last four Presidents have been a former governor of Georgia, a former actor and governor of California, a wealthy, respected, politician/patrician Vice-President, whose father had been a U.S. Senator, and the governor of Arkansas. Their only common thread was that three of them had been or were governors at the time of their election. Reagan and Bush were relatively rich, but neither Carter nor Clinton could have been called poor. Among them, only Reagan can be said to have significantly affected government policies, and then in a way directly opposite from those for which he ran and was elected. His comment was, "If you can't balance the budget, Jimmy Carter, move over and I'll do it for you." He intended to increase our military strength, but said he could do it while balancing the budget. As a candidate running against Reagan in 1980, George Bush, uttering the words of his speechwriter, said Reagan's program was "voodoo economics." That may have been the most accurate and candid verbal summary Bush ever spoke.

If I remember correctly, fiscal responsibility was the basic tenet of both Reagan and Bush, but somehow the national debt increased $2.8 trillion in the 12 consecutive years they were in office. Congress can't get all the blame. That number, by the way, works out to be $11, 200 for everyone living in America during those years. Spending nearly a thousand dollars a year more than the government took in for each of us doesn't meet my criterion of financial responsibility.

As we watch the presidential candidates tromp dutifully through the snows of New Hampshire, let us try to keep things in perspective. First, these are men with unusual ambition and drive. Like us, they are flawed and human. Unlike us, they aren't permitted to show it. Second, the American democratic system we extol to the world politically handcuffs our president and deliberately harnesses his power. Third, all of us can best work out our individual destinies by relying on our own efforts, not depending on the federal government to solve the myriad problems we will face through life. Fourth, we need not worry about electing a demi-god, savant, nor king to the job. A good, decent, experienced and compassionate man, sufficiently wise to know the system depends on compromise to make it work, with values and enough flexibility to reasonably examine and assess another point of view, can make an excellent president. Fifth, and most important, it seems to me we have permitted our country to be polarized to a harmful degree. Basically, we are all Americans, and should always remember we are united in humanity by countless similarities far more than we are divided by our few differences.

America cannot afford to forget our motto is, "United we stand, divided we fall."


Sam Orr
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)