“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” –Napoléon Bonaparte
“IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO???” That is what I keep asking myself as I watch the 2016 Presidential candidates begin to emerge and strut their stuff for the voters. One day it is Donald Trump spouting racist comments that cause the PGA tour to cut ties with him. The next day I see Hillary Clinton’s extremely low poll numbers when it comes to honesty and trustworthiness. Then there is the prospect of Scott Walker, and I think of how many people from Wisconsin I have met who are totally mortified that he is their governor. And, oh my goodness, might Joe Biden, the butt of so many jokes, really run for President? Who will the Republicans and Democrats trot out next: Jeffrey Dahmer or your crazy Aunt Cleo? I am again left scratching my head and wondering, “Is this the best that we can do?”
I know, I know, we are not supposed to talk about religion and politics in polite company, and I am certainly going to offend most people with this post today. But we aren’t talking here. We are just here to get you to think about what makes you tick. When you write about this in your journal, you are writing to yourself, for yourself. Of course you can talk about it with others, but you do that at your own risk. When you journal, you risk nothing. You only gain. You gain clarity and perspective, and you get to hash out potentially unpopular ideas without the prospect of losing friends as a result. It is your Truth, not someone else’s. So yes, go ahead and talk politics. I dare you! But first, hear me out. Maybe I can ruffle your feathers enough to stir up a passionate journal entry or two.
These candidates are killing me! They really are. As a guy who almost never follows current events but has an odd fascination with Presidential politics, I have found myself wondering if I could be more unimpressed by this group. But, you know, it is not really the fault of the candidates themselves. After all, they are just folks who are ambitious enough to want to be President of the United States. That is pretty darn admirable of them, actually. I guess it is the political parties and us—yes, you and I—who are to blame. How did we allow it to get to this point where it is so extremely difficult to uncover a couple of wonderful candidates for the highest office in the land? We should have made it clear to most of these folks long ago that they just weren’t what we are looking for when it comes to our global ambassador. We failed, and now here they are, lined up at our door (or at least our TV sets).
I guess there are some basic things I am looking for out of my next President—some minimum qualifications—regardless of political affiliation. These are the things I want the candidates of the major parties to have so that we can have a fair fight. Let’s start with charisma. We are talking about the leader of the free world here, so this person needs to have that certain something that draws people in. Captivate me! I also want to think my President is both intelligent and wise. I want the person to be able to not only understand the daily security briefing but also be able to make good decisions based on it. I want my President to be likable. Easily likable, so I don’t have to scour through the crabby surface or used-car-salesman surface or arrogant surface or patronizing surface to find some semblance of likable. I also want the main candidates to be on the younger end, frankly. Preferably 40s or 50s, not so much 70s. I know that sounds horribly ageist—and it is—but I am actually not saying it for me. I am really talking about what I think the two big parties would ideally put out there to appeal to the greatest number of voters. Personally, I don’t mind if the President is 65, but I think the candidates have more mass appeal when they enter around the age of the most recent Presidents (Clinton, W Bush, and Obama) rather than the Reagan/HW Bush ages. In this age of celebrity and social media, I really believe that we will see more candidacies that emerge as a wildfire-style movement—I think Obama’s first election will, in the long run, be seen as the first version of this—which is why youth, charisma, and even celebrity may play an increasingly large role in Presidential politics going forward (you think George Clooney couldn’t win an election right now?). I also think you cannot be seen as an extremist (though both sides like to paint each other as extremist, hopefully you and I can see the truth).
These basic standards of appeal seem so simple, obvious, and easy-to-meet, but look at the candidates emerging. Who meets them? You can answer for yourself. Does Hillary Clinton have likability or age on her side? Does Donald Trump have anything but celebrity—and perhaps charisma—on his? Vice President Biden is in his 70s, which is tough. Bernie Sanders seems too extreme to the left to attract enough people, and I think anyone Tea Party-related has the same problem but from the right. Who remains? The Democrats seem to be out of appealing options, unless Elizabeth Warren could be convinced to join the race. As for the Republicans, maybe the likes of Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush fit the basic standards. I suppose even that answer somewhat depends upon your political leanings.
I definitely have my biases, too. I have told you in previous letters that I am very liberal. I have zero inclination to attach myself to any party, but I admit that the Republican candidates—especially the Tea Party folks—frighten me more than the Democratic candidates. I actually think that Clinton would do a fine job as President, but I also think that the likability factor doesn’t make her a good candidate when we go back to our basic list.
Maybe it is just not possible in this age to find a person that seems at least generally appealing to most people (political views aside). After all, I tend to think President Obama is charismatic, likable, and young enough to appeal to a broad audience. If you look at the levels of hate and vitriol sent in his direction, though, he is clearly not a universal favorite. Maybe W Bush was that way, too. By his second term, the very sound of his voice made my skin crawl—I was very against the wars—but maybe even his most level-headed supporters wondered by everyone didn’t think he was the coolest guy ever. It is quite possible that the low level of respect that we grant even our highest officers today—maybe I was shielded from it growing up in a Republican household in the Reagan/Bush years, but it felt like no one dared to disrespect the President in those days—makes it impossible for us to find some consensus on who would be a generally good leader (political views aside). Nothing is sacred in 2015, and no one is safe from the haters.
Still, I hold out hope that the 2016 election will offer us some candidates from both parties who meet the basic standards. I would love to arrive at Election Day and be excited about the final contenders. I have lived through the elections where neither player excited me—see Bush vs. Gore—or when I was petrified at what might happen if the President died while in office (“Hello, President Palin!”). I think I want what each party wants: to deliver a candidate and running mate who are charismatic, likable, smart, wise, and appealing to a wide range of people. And I really want to spend the months leading up to the election without shouting at CNN, “Is this the best we can do???”
How about you? What is your take on the possibilities for your next President? Open up your journal—the only safe place to talk politics—and make a Wish List. What are the minimum standards on your list? Are they similar to mine, or quite different? How well has your preferred party done at producing candidates that meet those minimum standards? How well do you think the other party has done? Are you ever embarrassed for either party? Do you like it when the other party nominates an obvious dud? Given that no matter who each party nominates, the election is bound to be a close one and could go either way: even though I feel like my side gains a slight edge if the other side’s candidate seems awful, it still always freaks me out that the awful candidate might very well win and I will be stuck with this person as my leader (a recurrence of my Sarah Palin nightmares). Do you think that is the case in this election, with Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee for the Democrats despite having some serious popularity and trust issues? Should the average Republican voter be loving this or terrified that, despite these issues, she might be the next President? How open-minded are you about which candidate you will ultimately vote for? Have you picked a favorite yet? Are you open to the idea of a female or Latino or Indian-American President? How much does gender, race, or religion play into your candidate preferences? How much difference do you think is really made by choosing a Republican rather than a Democrat for President, or vice versa? Do you always vote by party, or can a personal quality or an issue sway you? Do you know someone personally—maybe even you—who you think would be a good President? What is it about that person that makes you feel this way? Would you want the job? Why or why not? If you answered “NO” to the job, do you think this is why we have such a shortage of good candidates on both sides? What can we do about that? Leave me a reply and let me know, “Is this the best that we can do?”
Demand the best,