Eric Harrington – The Politics of the Regular Guy
Just exactly who came up with the idea that a President has to be a “regular” guy (or gal as I know my wife would chime in with)? How did America, in all our “exceptional” wisdom decide that we didn’t want a candidate that was too smart or too educated? All logic and clear rational thought would suggest that when someone votes for the person they are going to put in charge of the most powerful army, the largest economy, and whom they will give dramatic influence over countless areas of our lives, that they would want the smartest, most educated (especially in history), most articulate, and most of all wisest and most worldly person they could find.. To suggest otherwise would simply be irrational to the extreme.
Why does a president have to have exceptional intelligence and world experience to be an exceptional president? First and foremost, because an exceptional person will listen to and understand their better informed advisors, but make their own call, because they are confident they are most capable to make the choice, and it is their responsibility. A simple person, when surrounded by highly intelligent and educated advisors, will simply become the puppet of those advisors, unwittingly following their advice, and you end up with a president you DIDN’T vote for. Or they could easily resent or have their ego challenged by the advisors and simply ignore their advice and reject everything they are told, and make their own stupid decisions based on “their gut” like a recent president I welcome the opportunity to never mention again.. Frankly, it’s hard to joust without a lance.
Does that mean that a person has to be of exceptional intelligence, education and world experience to be successful or effective in life. Absolutely not. But it should be a prerequisite in what is arguably the most complex job on earth. The decisions a president faces are virtually never black and white. They are highly nuanced and complex because they deal with countless different peoples, cultures, and reactions to every action they take. I have heard it said that that is precisely why you want a person with strong values but a less sophisticated mind, because they have to make hard decisions, and intellectuals have a hard time making up their mind. However, changing ones mind, even more than once (contrary to popular belief) is not a BAD thing if you come to realize you were wrong. In fact, it is critical, for everyone is wrong now and then. Why a highly intelligent person can be plagued with the indecision and inaction comes from seeing all the nuance, complexities, and consequences, without the background, worldliness, and yes experience to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This campaign has been all about experience. But experience in politics is helpful but not necessary. There are plenty of good advisors out there, and frankly being effective in politics requires a mindset and values I really personally don’t want in a president. Hire a ruthless pit bull like Carl Rove to win an election for you. And experience, contacts, or favors are not really necessary to be effective with congress– there is plenty of that kind of experience available for hire in Washington.
The kind of experience that is important is LIFE experience. Experience in real, important negotiations, experience in other cultures, experience with danger and adversity, i.e experience with the complexities and nuance of the real world, both on the street and in the ivory towers. An extensive education is simply not enough to make a great president. John Kennedy had the tremendous experience in the values of courage under tremendous adversity and danger, while also being raised in a powerful dichotomy of an extremely wealthy, elite family of ex-gangsters. So he knew BOTH sides of the tracks although one would not immediately think so. Roosevelt faced huge adversity overcoming Polio, and although raised in an elite world, had strong populist values. Both were exceptionally intelligent people.
But it is the contrasts and the overview, that is critical to a president. The ability to use history as a guide to human nature, to have a real comprehension of the things that makes cultures different, to see the big picture and the long term consequences. Such perspective simply cannot be taught.
Another ironic aspect of presidential expectations is that they have to be some kind of puritanical ideal. But how can a president really understand the drug problem in this country without having ever taken a recreational drug? Wouldn’t it be better to elect someone who had the strength of character to experiment but NOT become addicted, to have some wild sexual experiences but not let sex run their life, to EXPERIENCE all aspects of life, so that may better understand it? Especially with those aspects of life for which they will be charged with improving?
So I’m sorry small town, real America… I know for some mysterious reason you desperately wanted to elect a president who is just an average, regular guy. Maybe it’s to feel that you too could do it. Or a basic mistrust of those smarter than you. Or some kind of ludicrous contempt for those who actually worked hard to be exceptional. But our nation cannot make it through the desperate challenges we face over the next few decades without leadership of both exceptional Character, AND Intelligence. To think otherwise is just very, very stupid.
There is one candidate who fits this profile quite well. Barack Obama, has lived in other countries and cultures, in poor societies and rich, he has taught and worked in the most prestigious universities and walked the streets and helped people with real world issues there. He has risen to the very top of this country as a black man, a monumental feat and something considered impossible just a few years back. He truly understands and respects the constitution, one of his primary charges if elected president, having taught constitutional law at Columbia. He is clearly exceptionally intelligent, as seen in his ability to think on his feet in a debate, and his rise to be the first black president of the Harvard Law review, and he has ran the most remarkable campaign maybe in history, coming from virtually nowhere to defeat a major political force in Hillary Clinton. Throughout his life he has WANTED to take responsibility, not avoided it. He has demonstrated not only his strong leadership qualities and charisma, but his ability to make savvy choices in one of the most complex competitions in the world, a presidential campaign. I am confident he will make an exceptional president. Whether the situation he is left with is reversible in the short-term, is a ‘whole-nuther’ story…
The historic fact that Barack Obama was indeed elected, may well say more about the ability of this country to admit we were wrong on this point— that maybe we really do need an exceptionally smart person in the Whitehouse– than suggesting that racism in this country is over. I just suspect that those who still place importance on the color of ones skin have just become so frustrated and disenchanted with what the “rich white guys” have wrought, that they finally have accepted that Obama is one very smart black guy, and he’s going to have to be smart to get us out of the mess this current pathetic plain-talking, simple minded, black and white world view president got us into…
So a toast to those Americans and the wisdom to change ones mind….