Watch too much campaign coverage and candidates "debating" like I have recently, and your head will spin. There's only so much "change" rhetoric (on the Dems' side) and Freudian obsession with Reagan (on the G.O.P. side) a guy can take!
I feel like taking a step back from strategies, policies, and ideologies to instead think about what attributes I'd like to see in the President of the United States.
If I were Dr. Frankenstein attempting to create the perfect leader of the free world, here are the parts I'd like to cobble together:
* Strong management leadership
Going into George W. Bush's presidency, a lot was made about him bringing a Harvard MBA's mentality to the Oval Office. He was going to be the competent president-as-CEO. Even though this didn't quite pan out, the underlying idea is generally sound.
The president isn't an expert on every (or any) topic; his job is to surround himself with qualified, competent people, and to be "The Decider" based on the data he has. Of course, an effective manager has to also have people around who will tell the emperor when he's not wearing clothes.
Applicants to be president typically come from Congress or the state mansions. Senators aren't administrators, and their ability to manage and lead is unknown. Governors, whose experience is more in line with the presidency, typically have the inside track to the White House.
But I would take the head of a major multinational corporation. Give me a Fortune 100 CEO, give me someone who has led, delegated, dealt with pressure, juggled people and egos and diverse opinions. Give me someone who understands business and economics, someone worldly, someone with a track record of success.
Wait, does this sound like I'm asking for...Mitt Romney? I can't deny that he had a tremendously successful business career, and his background in management consulting (the field I will soon enter) and investments mirrors my own.
* Worldly, diplomatic, and inclusive
Given the ramifications of our foreign policy and our role in an increasingly integrated global economy, it would be nice to have a president who has traveled abroad and/or been exposed to different perspectives. We need someone who appreciates cultural differences and forcefully decries xenophobia. The Republican Party needs to divorce itself of Islamophobia immediately.
I want a candidate who has in-depth knowledge of conflicts around the world, someone who has the ability to have a dialogue with world leaders. I am a huge proponent of a strong military and defense, but that doesn't mean the art of diplomacy can't flourish.
At home, we need a president who realizes that there any many different kinds of American voters, each with their own priorities and needs. The president should not just be tending to a narrow base but should try to be as inclusive as possible. Policy should never be made at the direct expense of a certain group (e.g. Latinos, homosexuals). At the least, I appreciate Mike Huckabee saying recently that his religious beliefs are his own and that he does not expect or want anyone else to be compelled to share them.
I want a candidate who, to put it succinctly, isn't full of himself. Granted, political life is not typically for such people, and the ones who run for president typically have the biggest egos and messiah complexes. Surprisingly enough, while watching several Republican debates in the past couple weeks, I've been thinking that only Fred Thompson doesn't come across as thinking of himself as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Is it so hard for the candidates to at least occasionally seem like real people? During tonight's Democratic debate/lovefest, both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards flubbed a basic job interview question: "What is your greatest weakness?" They both answered with variants of "Aw shucks, I just care too darn much", and I fought the urge to vomit. I'm crossing my fingers hoping that Barack Obama doesn't fall in love with his own hype in the coming weeks and months.
As a practical consideration, I don't want a leader who is so sure of his own infallibility--look where that's gotten us recently.
* Willingness to think unconventionally
I haven't mentioned Ron Paul at all on my blog, and while I disagree vehemently with a lot of his views, I definitely respect the guy. It pissed me off when Fox News tried to exclude him from the debates, and when they relented, they treated him like a lunatic. I mean, c'mon, the guy isn't Dennis Kucinich--Paul's been a fundraising juggernaut, and while he's never, ever going to win an election, his primary showings have been more respectable than Thompson or Rudy Guiliani.
And I think his presence is good, because it forces people to take a look at familiar issues in a completely different light. We all need that kind of reality check, even if it's only to assure us of our own positions.
More broadly, whoever becomes the next president is going to inherit a host of problems that need to be dealt with. Whether it's dealing with the deficit or the financial markets or the environment or foreign policy, creative new approached need to be concerned. Sacrifices may be required. Compromises are a certainty. Ideological purity is the antithesis of successful leadership.
Is there any wonder then, that "change" has resonated so clearly as a theme for both parties? John McCain has that bi-partisan appeal and Obama promises post-partisan politics. Whether either can actually deliver remains to be seen.
There are certainly other elements that go into being a successful leader. A president won't be able to anticipate all the challenges he or she will face, so hopefully we elect someone who can deal with the unexpected and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.