Saturday, September 03, 2011

What I want in a President (or a Senator, or a Congressperson).

One of the op-eds that I read this morning (here) got me thinking about what I want in a candidate for national office.*  I'm part of that vast center, neither too liberal nor too conservative.  I've toyed with both parties over the years, but the parties I knew growing up bear no relationship to the acrimonious and sanctimonious parties of today.  If politicians were still in kindergarten, they'd all be given "doesn't play well with others" grades.  But at least if they were in kindergarten, we could hope that they'd grow out of that problem.

So what do I want?  Here are the markers for my ideal candidate:
  1. They're smart.  Smart people can learn things, and they're open to questioning their assumptions.  People with high IQs who aren't open to questioning their assumptions aren't smart.
  2. They know their limitations.  Dirty Harry was right:  "A man's got to know his limitations."**  Not only should they know their limitations, they should surround themselves with people whose strengths fit precisely where the candidate's limitations are.  I worked for a Republican 9th Circuit judge.  We had very few things in common.  (Let's see:  we both went to law school.  We were both carbon-based life forms.  Later in life, I was a dean; he'd been a dean before working for the federal government.  That's about it.)  He liked choosing at least one law clerk whose ideas differed markedly from his, so that, as he put it, he could make sure that his decisions made sense.  He wanted me to poke holes in his analysis, and he rewarded me for doing so.  He was willing to buck his own predilections to get the law right.  Given that many of the more liberal judges back then weren't nearly as intellectually honest as he was, I was impressed by his dedication to justice.  
  3. They don't believe their own hype.  People in power are surrounded by lackeys.  The level of kissing-up to which they're subjected is almost unlimited.  Being told that one is brilliant, handsome/beautiful, and wise every minute will tend to affect one's self-image.  It takes strength to realize that, like everyone else, they're humans with no superpowers.  I want my public servants to have some humility.
  4. They're willing to walk away from the job rather than pander.  This one's tough.  I know that it's impossible to govern without being elected.  But with the extremists in both parties pushing for candidates and politicians to move farther left or farther right, as the case may be, at some point, the candidate or politician has to say, "enough."  Spending too much time campaigning at the cost of investing that time in governing doesn't impress me.
I don't know if we'll get candidates that meet my criteria.  I'd love to see them, but I doubt that the people who really could fit even this list of four qualities are going to take time from their productive lives to run.  We sure could use them, though.
* Of course, I'd like to see these same things in candidates for state and local offices, too.


Jim Milles said...

Good points all. But considering how hard it is to find those qualities in a dean (and the price those few good deans pay), I don't hold out much hope.

Nancy Rapoport said...

Good point, Jim!