The divisiveness that characterizes the 2004 presidential race has challenged me to actually answer the question, What Makes a Good President?
Presidents are faced with various challenges:
- foreign, civil, and class warfare;
- minor economic downturns;
- intrusions into their personal life;
- religious extremists at home and abroad;
- threat of WMD annihiliation of all humans;
- policy decisions with impact for following decades;
- exploiting successes
- minimizing mistakes.
Presidents have disparate responsibilities:
- appointing the right people to the right jobs;
- making tough decisions on policy issues;
- deciding where to spend political captial;
- overcoming legislative resistance;
- inspiring people to think in new ways;
- managing people without micromanaging them;
- avoiding unsolvable problems and needless conflicts;
Presidents come to the job with different experiences and abilites:
- implimenting policy as an executive (Governor, etc.)
- creating laws (Senator, etc.)
- arguing laws (as a prosecutor or practicing lawyer)
- academic training in a field of expertise (doctor, dentist, professor, C.P.A., M.B.A., etc.);
- being a business owner (farmer, C.E.O., lawyer, etc.)
- visiting and living overseas, listening to foreigners;
- participating in the military;
- living in political families;
- knowing powerful people personally;
- achieving high schoolastic honors;
- speaking publically to large crowds, both friendly and not;
- speaking with the media (TV, radio, and movies);
- growing up either in very poor or very rich households;
- running in a number of previous elections, then winning or losing;
These experiences lead to skills as a political executive.
Politicians should be judged, in my view, by whether the society they govern ends up better or worse than when they started.
Appropriate presidential-candidate questions:
- Do they have a proved ability to solve problems?
- Is hindsight kind to their decisions?
- Is their experience appropriate to the problems at hand?
- What is their win/loss ratio for inspiring positive change?
- How smart are they? How much do I trust their brainpower?
- What were their grades in school?
- Can they talk about any policy matter intelligently?
- Have they insulted any foreign countries or populations?
- Are they respected by other world leaders and populations?
- How much do they know about just the policies that matter most?
- How many questions have they asked, in public, of experts, and listened to their answers?
- How wise are they?
- Do they listen to diverse viewpoints to ensure they understand the range of possible actions?
- Have they had any notable "failures of imagination"?
- Do they presume some people (by religion, race, creed, orientation, career choice, childcare choices, etc.) are "better", or "more moral", or "more correct" than others?
- Is their political base close in opinion to my opinions?
- If they say they are pro-something, do they prioritize funding for that something above the other things?
- Do they back up "pro-education" or "pro-environment" with specific policy changes that matter?
It seems that some radio talk shows presume that certain things are true, and I'm wondering if the candidates agree with these statements:
- "Less government is better",
- "Deficits don't matter",
- "Christianity is the de-facto national religion",
- "Americans are better than other people",
- "Some people are evil and ONLY want to hurt others"
- "Women belong in the home",
- "A quick war solves problems quickly".
Regardless of the truth or falsehood of these statements, they appeal to a broad range of Americans and ignore many, many complexities.
- Less government can mean (a) fewer idle bureaucrats, or (b) fewer SEC lawyers prosecuting corporate theives;
- Deficits don't matter if they're $4 billion, but if they're $400 billion per year, that's really $800 Billion that votors for the next 30 years will be paying off (think: Mortgage).
- Christianity has a place in the national dialogue as the majority religion, but our consitution aims to prevent domination of any religion; are we living up that ideal? Are we really protecting the total equality of Buddhists and Moslems among us? Why not?
The list goes on.
I'm thinking that what I'm witnessing in our current presidential race poses a significant question to all voting-age U.S. citizens: Who will be a better president - Bush or Kerry?
Perhaps a better question is, What does a president have to do to prove they are a bad president? Or, more personally, what would I have to do to prove I was a bad president?
1. What if I became the first U.S. President to declare a preemptive war? Okay, not true: We've been doing this in South America for 100 years since Monroe with "gunboat diplomacy". Look at Reagan in Grenada. But, the operative question is still on the table: This is the largest war we've ever started without being attacked first.
2. What if I spent 18 months building up to a war with a country I knew I would defeat, without building up to imeplement a transitional government with multilateral (many-nations and many-parties) support?
3. What if my policies were so bad in the countries I was administering that I forced nearly all of the charitable NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations) to leave? True already in Afganistan, mostly true now in Iraq.
4. What if I allowed a defense secretary to make and keep a policy that led to very public, overt violations of the Geneva Conventions on the Rules of War, one of the best treaties our nation has signed in providing for ethical pracices in wartime, and preventing harm to our soldiers after capture?
5. What if I attempted to circumvent the spirit of the constitution by imprisoning many hundreds of foreign citizens without due process, without access to lawyers, incommunicado, in a prison outside U.S. borders, for many years? Then, once I was forced to bring them to trial, creating a military court system in which none of the judges or many of the prosecutors were lawyers at all, much less being experienced with the laws they are trying to enforce / adjudicate?
6. What if I appointed religious and political non-scientist zealots to all the most prestigious and important national and international scientific advisory panels? What if a huge, bipartisan group of scientists openly held me in contempt for having these people distort and mess up these most complex funding decisions? What if this policy was continued just to get more campaign funding from a small religious minority?
7. What if I created a energy policy without asking ANY environmental group for input? What if the policy was actually written by an industry lawyer? What if I fought tooth and nail with as many delaying tactics as possible, to have even the attendees, as well as notes of the meetings, held as completely secret?
8. What if I appealed to the worst instincts in voters, Fear of Foreign Attack, using terror myself as a campaigning tool? What if my administration's minions accused the challenger of treason by stating that he would collaborate with the enemy?
9. What if the cabinet-level Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made a false alert of imminent attack purely for political gain? Shouldn't the official be fired? What if this vague, unsubstantiated, and very suspiciously timed announcement was later proved to have been based almost exclusively on 4-year old information, yet made immediately before the Democratic convention to dominate the news cycle?
10. What if my foreign policy has resulted in the citizens of most other countries in the world expressing to the U.S. their extreme anger, contempt, passionate repudiation and condemnation, and frequent accusations of illegal and immoral acts? What if those same citizens frequently made fun of me, calling me stupid and arrogant? Might they be looking at more diverse newscasts?
11. What if my stated policy was to blacklist any news organization that ran stories critical of my policies? Wouldn't that lead to major news corporations pressuring reporters to sugar-coat their reports?
12. What if I changed the basis of appointing U.S. Judges from rankings by the ABA (American Bar Association) to those of an arch-conservative think tank? Given that the ABA has ranked the judicial the experience and capability of judges for 200 years, should I be rewarded with the ability to continue appointing judges on this basis?
13. What if I made so many grammatical, subject-verb, and fragmented-thought errors when speaking that the entire world believes me to be an arrogant idiot? Shouldn't the most powerful job in the world be held by a person who can speak spontaneously and intelligently, in complete sentances? Should young students think grammar is irrelevent since a president ignores or is incapable of it?
14. What if I freely admitted to the world that "I don't read much", when I'm supposed to make intelligent decisions on the most important matters of our day?
In foreign policy, our ability to get what we want means LOWER TAXES. It means cooperating with other (usually nearby) countries to keep the peace, to monitor elections, to negotiate between warring parties, and many other things reduce our direct costs and add trading partners for us to sell our goods, services, and entertainments.
To get assistance from other nations, we need to have RESPECT as an AUTHORITY (control + power), not just a POWER.
INTERNATIONAL RESPECT (thus Lower U.S. Taxes) comes from other nation's citizens and rulers seeing that:
- our motives match our actions;
- our good acts of expert emergency assistance;
- we are on the moral high ground;
- where we can't be moral, the morality is very difficult;
- we are pushing for greater safety, productivity, and human rights;
- we are domonstrably impartial in negotiations between conflicted peoples;
- we use our military when all other peaceful means are exhausted;
- we repair our bad deeds and accidents with assistance and reparations;
- we respect the dignity and sovereignty of native populations and leave their nation alone when asked to do so as long as morality permits;
- we don't subject foreign governments to religious or cultural requirements as a condition for helping them;
- we know the game of diplomacy: talking calmly in small, measured steps to both avoid inflaming or offending local sensibilities;
- we have predictable policies that create calm business and political / security environments.
Doing the above results in the populations looking up to us and aspiring to live here (giving us the best of their smart, talented go-getters). It makes the populations willing to let their rulers help us, because helping us helps them. Cooperation means other governments do what we want/need because their people don't hate us. When they like us, they help us. Foreign respect means lower taxes: We spend less money spent on foreign aid because other countries pitch in. Frankly, foreign workers don't demand as high a salary, so we can both buy locally, and put more people on the ground and help more. This is good for everyone.
On the other hand, without power gained through deserved respect, we cannot impose our will except by military means and economic blackmail, which are very poor tools indeed, and expensive ones at that.
Without respect, other rulers hear their citizens complain about cooperating with a bully and keep their troops at home. We either do the job ourselves at great expense, or stay home. Either way, it means Americans and foreigners killed, maimed, raped, robbed, and all because of one vote, YOURS.
The current George W. Bush administration has proven in almost all of the above categories that it has failed the American people. Foreigners now see the administration's horrible foreign policy mistakes and churn hate about how wrong we are.
A second George W. Bush administration can do nothing but result in immense loss of prestige for the U.S., and here's why: If we elect GW again, we will go from being mistaken once, to approving of his mistakes and thus being despicable ourselves.
What specifically establishes this as a bad presidency?
I believe a simple look through the above list will show that we should demand better from our presidents.
- We need to acknowledge our mistakes by removing someone who has failed so badly and so visibly across the world and at home.
- We need to prevent further erosion of international respect, and thus cooperation.
- We need someone who has demonstrated foreign policy experience, as Kerry has on the senate intelligence committe for many years.
- We should elect someone who doesn't set policies that make it impossible for charitable agencies to do good works.
- We should elect someone who puts good science, and good public health, ahead of the interests of a vocal but unrepresentative religious minority.
- We should elect a president who can speak cogently and correctly.
- We should be elect the smarter candidate.
- We should expect our president to consider both sides of an argument before deciding, and have confidence that he understands the issues.
- We should expect that secular views dominate policy decisions, that religious fundamentalism, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Seikh, or whatever, has no place in public policy.
- We should ask for the majority of our Federal Judges to be the best jurists we can find, and that they are impartial, with centrist or moderate political and moral views.
We should demand more.
We should demand change.
Ask yourself, who can create a better United States?
If you are upset by Bush, vote for Kerry.
If you're tempted to vote for Nader as a protest vote, remember that a vote for Nader is effectively a vote for Bush. Do you really want Bush?
If you are a lifelong conservative, ask yourself if a this neo-conservative administration really reflects your views?
- smaller government (vs. large Homeland Security dept.),
- intrusion into our private lives (vs. PATRIOT Act),
- fiscally irresponsible budgets (vs. large bugdet deficits),
- respect for the environment you like to hunt or fish in (vs. not eating PCB- and mercury-laden fish).
If you are a socially conservative person (pro-life, public acknowledgement of God, etc.), reject the neo-conservatives that distort what you want with 'returning' to some made-up version of an ideal past.
Vote for Kerry, vote for change. Please? YOUR VOTE DOES MATTER.