Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, put this video together of what he considers his ideal candidate. I think he’s onto something here. Too many candidates tend to be plain, vanilla people who have never had a real job, done things they regret, or have failed at anything. Psychologist Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness would tend to agree. The last person we needed to run the country in the last four years is a monogamous dude who has never known defeat or dark nights of the soul. (Note that personality disorders, like sociopathy and narcissism, are not the same as depression or mania or other mood disorders.)
Where I differ from Seth is that I do believe there is value in experience for a public servant. For example, FDR was Secretary of the Navy and Governor of NY. Just like anything else, achieving mastery in the art of governance is aided by experience. To say that a person with little or no experience is desirable for the highest position of power in the world is probably not too wise. That’s how we ended up with Obama and he clearly has no idea what options he has available to him to get things done. Either that or governance is just not his thing.
The distaste for experienced public servants is a mistake of both the left and the right. The left just hates the idea of politics altogether. It requires shaking hands and knowing people well enough to anticipate how they will behave so that a selection of carrots and sticks may be applied and all of that is just oogie to them because they fancy themselves to be cool intellectual types who are above all that squishy emotional stuff. When they nominate the cool intellectual type, they tend to be ineffective. Take John Kennedy for example. His whole cabinet was full of people who didn’t really like politics. They didn’t like LBJ either because he was too earthy and touchy feely but it was Johnson who got much of Kennedy’s agenda passed because he wasn’t afraid to get in people’s faces and wheel and deal.
The right just doesn’t like government. It doesn’t really matter who is in charge. Their business is business. Whether the various departments work well or not is really not their concern. Get in, lower taxes on the rich, eliminate as many regulations as possible so that no one is minding the hen house, and get out before anyone attaches the disaster you caused to your party. Reagan, and the two Bush’s are examples of that type. Governing well was the last thing on their minds.
If anything, we need a president who actually enjoys being a politician and governor. We haven’t had one for 12 years now. What country in their right mind keeps saying, “We have a position open for the most powerful person in the world but we prefer a person with no practical experience in governing. Poli Sci and International Relations majors also need not apply. This is a entry level position.” That’s just a crazy way to elect a president and we deserve what we get.
What makes a good president is a coherent worldview, a vision, a political philosophy, and the abilities and experience to use the power of the position to lead people in the direction of that vision. You don’t have to be an intellectual genius, you don’t need to be pure in body or spirit and wealth is definitely not a pre-requisite definition of success. What makes a good president is someone who genuinely cares about people and their welfare. Think about all of our best presidents and they all have that in common.
I would add one more thing to this list. A president has to be committed to the constitutional equality of all Americans regardless of gender, sexuality or religious affiliation or non-affiliation. And that candidate should have a record that clearly and unambiguously demonstrates that commitment. Because the last thing this country needs is for so many women, LGBT persons and non-believers to be forced to sit on the sidelines because they are convenient paraiahs to target in election years. We can’t afford to waste any talent. In particular, any candidate who fails to vigorously defend the rights and equality of women should be immediately disqualified. A candidate who allows his or her party to kick around half of the population as a political football doesn’t deserve to be president. Both candidates are guilty this year.