Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stop Hailing the Chief So Much

My take on Obama has garnered some interesting feedback, and to a point I can understand Jeff and Mouldy's points about him being no different than the rest. That of course does not address the larger issue that someone who has such a limited resume and whose sole qualification to be President is being articulate is drawing so much praise and adulation. Of course there's much ado about his platitudes about bipartisanship, and I've addressed that elsewhere. That Obama is no less substantive than many of the other contenders is really besides the point. We shouldn't just settle for politicians of this sort.

I'll admit that my expectations about the presidency are somewhat idealistic. Silly me, I actually want someone who is articulate and can also advance right-leaning policy. You know, someone not like our current president but more like the one we had in the eighties.

But even while I hold these idealistic thoughts, overall I'm something of an anti-idealist. This stems from my belief that the presidency is overhyped. I'm sure I'm repeating myself, but the Presidency has become something so much larger than what the Framers anticipated, and this is not a pleasant development. We spend inordinate amounts of time discussing one man and his office, to the point that we're analyzing an election that is 22 months away, and said analysis begins farther out than that.

Our views of the presidency are warped in certain crucial ways. We view the President as some sort of super-legislator. Especially when the President and Congress are of the same party, but even otherwise, we always look to the President to deliver from on high his legislative agenda. Congress has become so lax in its duties that in 2004 we witnessed a man who had been in the Senate for two decades, and who had proposed little in the way of legislation in all that time, suddenly becoming a font of legislative proposing wisdom when he ran for the presidency. Sure we'll see some activity with the Democrats in Congress, but ultimately all eyes will be on the presidency.

The problem with this, aside from the diminishment of Congress' power and influence, is that it also diminishes or at least lets us overlook what is an important aspect of the presidency: administrative and managerial competency. The President is the head of the Executive Branch, and he is meant to be just that - the chief executive. But when legislative functions encroach upon the office, the executive nature is overshadowed. So we don't even consider whether the man (or woman) running for office has the managerial competence to lead the executive branch of government, when this should be one of the primary considerations. Instead, we judge them mainly on public policy and other superficial factors like appearance and speaking ability.

That's not to say that one's views or even rhetorical skills should be non-factors, but they shouldn't be the only facotrs that we consider.

Can Barack Obama manage the national government? Or Rudy Giuliani? What about McCain? Something tells me it's not going to be a question often asked in the coming months.

I also think we demand too much perfection from our candidates. Now, this might seem to contradict my earlier comments about Obama. But while I disdain the utter lack of substance, I also don't expect to find the absolutely ideal candidate. Every candidate will have faults. I'm sure if I had been politically conscious in 1980 I would have found fault with Ronald Reagan. The idea is to choose the best man for the job, not the perfect.

Awaiting perfection only sets us up for disappointment. In the history of our republic we have had only two presidents that are undeniably great and approach perfection: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington (and even then I'll get disagreement, especially on Lincoln). That's two out of the 42 men that have occupied the office. The other 40 have been quite fallible, though some quite more so than others.

Of course, we should hope that there will be candidates that, even if not perfect, will be at least be very good. So far the field is disappointing. Brownback and Romney are my two favorites at this point, and there are serious issues with both. For instance, Romney seems like an ideal candidate, but how seriously do we take his committment to social conservative causes? As Kate O'Beirne pointed out in the latest issue of National Review, many other prominent conservatives also changed their minds on issues like abortion, including Ronald Reagan. But have any done so in such a short period before their run for the presidency?

Then there's Rudy. Setting aside his social views, one would think that he possesses the managerial skills I discussed earlier. After all, he was the mayor of a city that is larger in terms of population than about 38 states, and was an outstanding administrator and manager. But what of his temprament? Can he be counted on to effectively manage such a large office, and can he be diplomatic when needed to be so?

In the end, maybe we should be comforted that most of our presidents have been less-than-great. Maybe it just shows how little we need to rely on that person. That would be the positive lesson to take from all this.



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