Choosing the next president
Before this last week’s rush of entries into the ’08 race for the White House, William Faulk, of “The Week” magazine editorialized that Barack Obama’s eight years as an Illinois state senator and two as a U.S. senator does not qualify him to be the next president of the United States.
While it’s true that no job fully prepares one to lead a nation of 300 million people with more than 1,000 governmental agencies, almost 3 million employees, a $2.7-trillion budget and the world’s most powerful military, Mr. Faulk said nothing about Sen. Obama’s philosophical underpinnings.
While it’s pretty much agreed that Sen. Obama is an extremely charismatic politician and a first-rate speaker who does an excellent job of articulating feel-good platitudes, what do Americans really know about him?
The senator may make a fine chief executive one day, but what principles underpin his positions on the myriad of complex national and international issues our next president will face?
Whenever I raise this matter with friends who say they may support Obama in ’08, I’m usually met with, “What about Lincoln? After all, he was both inexperienced, and a relative unknown prior to assuming the Presidency in 1861.” Obviously my friends have some knowledge of history, but not enough to realize that any comparison between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln at this point in time is both premature and naive.
Abraham Lincoln was a leader for the ages and at the time of his death greatly revered. More than a few of his contemporaries believed he was “the greatest man they ever knew,” and possibly “the grandest personage of the 19th century.”
Testament to Lincoln’s greatness can be seen in the following story from Leo Tolstoy, who in 1908, when visiting with a tribal chief in the Russian Caucuses, was asked to tell stories about the famous men of history. Tolstoy related how he entertained the chief and the crowds that followed them with tales of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great and Napoleon.
As he was winding to a close the chief said, “But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero, he spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock … his name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of this man.”
“I looked at them,” Tolstoy later recalled, “… and saw their faces all aglow, while the eyes were burning. I saw that these barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend.”
Tolstoy later observed that Lincoln’s greatness and moral power came from his strength of character. He was a humanitarian as broad as the world. And just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly upon us, Lincoln’s genius is still too strong and too powerful for common understanding.
It’s been written that Abraham Lincoln possessed an indomitable sense of purpose, a conviction that we are one nation, indivisible, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal led to the rebirth of a Union free of slavery. What was also remarkable about Lincoln was his ability to express those concepts “… in a language of enduring clarity and beauty that matched his political genius.”
Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln isn’t running for president in 2008, which means that whoever enters the Oval Office in 2009, will likely be in over his (or her) head.
However, as Mr. Faulk also opined, when giving any new president the job, Americans will gamble that he grows into it before he makes too much of a mess. In theory, we should choose a president on the basis of their intelligence, principles, ability to learn and the strength of their character.
While the aforementioned are commendable guidelines, the criteria I will use to measure candidates during the run-up to the ’08 elections are slightly different. Perhaps most importantly, an American president has the solemn responsibility to preserve the character of this nation and its people. Therefore, any candidate who plays politics with, or equivocates regarding America’s illegal immigration problems does not deserve to lead this great republic.
The next U.S president must also know and understand the nature of our nation’s enemies. During these early years of the 21st century, our next chief executive needs a solid understanding of the cultures in and around the broader Middle East.
Additionally, our next president must have a demonstrable set of core values, a passion for doing what is right and the ability to inspire people. What’s more, he or she must maintain optimism in spite of the grimmest of circumstances and ensure receiving the bad news in a timely fashion.
Regarding this latter ability, I believe the current administration’s most significant shortcoming wasn’t the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, but rather its failure to become aware of the enormity of Katrina until it after was too late.
Lastly, the next person to occupy the Oval Office must be unwavering in his or her vision while remaining flexible in the strategies to attain it.
Do any of the current presidential hopefuls meet all of these criteria? I don’t know – but it’ll be interesting to watch as each tries to prove they do.
Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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