Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is Anyone Ever Ready

Is anyone ever ready to be President? I submit that no one short of an incumbent and maybe not even then is ever ready to immediately be President. I have never understood this false narrative that has been promoted by different candidates, pundits, and news media outlets that anyone who has never been President is ready to be President. Can anyone tell me that any of our past Presidents were actually ready to be commander in chief? How can one prepare for the unknown?

So, if no one can be prepared to be President how then are we to choose who shall lead us. According to McCain and the Republicans it should be based on experience. I would like to examine this notion for a moment. Based on their argument the best President would be the one who brings the most experience. So does history bear out this theory? The good thing about America is that we have history that can be reflected upon-though all too often it isn’t-we can test theories based on past experience. If we choose we can explore and examine the narratives that are presented to us. Maybe if we had exercised a little more due diligence we wouldn’t have had to suffer through the past 8 years.

The conventional wisdom is that the best Presidents were the ones with the most experience, so does the empirical data bear that out? Well based on the experience factor the two Presidents with the most experience would be Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and James Buchanan. Let’s look at the records of two of these three men and see if the conventional wisdom is right. The Presidencies of these two men should prove once and for all that experience is over-rated. James Buchanan was arguably the worst President prior to George W. Bush. He stood by and watched this nation rip itself apart prior to the Civil War and sided with slave owners. In the case of Buchanan the case is clear that his experience did not translate into greatness or even adequacy in the office of the Presidency.

President Johnson was also considered experienced after serving decades in the Senate. His Presidency began with much promise and ended in agony, with all of his experience he was unable to extricate the country from Vietnam and watched as it tore our nation apart. He left office a defeated and demoralized man. At the time of his ascendancy to the Presidency no one had more power and connections than President Johnson, yet despite all of these things he allowed external events to define his Presidency.

Arguably the greatest President in American history Abraham Lincoln had the shortest experience resume of any President. Abraham Lincoln served 8 years in the Illinois legislature and one term in the U.S. House (1847-1849), a decade before becoming President. The rest of the time he was a lawyer in private practice. By today’s standards he wouldn’t even be considered as a viable contender, he would be laughed off any ticket in America. Yet despite his thin resume he proved that he was more than up for the job. When many others would have cowered and done nothing he demonstrated a commitment and strength of character that no amount of years in Washington could have provided and stood strong when faced with tremendous pressure.

I submit that rather than experience the more important characteristics are temperament and character in making a good or even great President. The sad thing about the election process in America is that these two traits are rarely if ever discussed. If they had been there is no way we would have had George W. Bush even near the Oval Office let alone occupy it. Not only are they rarely discussed by the media, but even rarer by the candidates and the electorate. We must discontinue allowing others to define the issues and what constitutes someone who is electable.

There is no preparation for the Presidency despite the false narratives. Preparation for the Presidency is the same preparation for any other important position in this country. It is the totality of our life experiences; it is our sense of ourselves and our place in the world that prepares us for life. Instead of our continuing to be misled with the deeply rooted game of bait and switch that characterizes our electoral process we must look beyond the Madison Avenue sales pitch and look into the hearts of these men. What do they stand for and what do they believe in, if anything. These are the questions we should be seeking answers to, what lies in their hearts not what lies in their ads. We all know what lies are in their ads.

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