Imagination and the Presidency

By the very nature of democracy, the day after elections most Americans are happy with their new president. Though, due to our electoral system, the popular vote is not always reflected in the final outcome, by and large a person gets elected to the highest office because most Americans think they've gotten the best president available.

As we all know, this happy feeling does not stay constant. It is a job of pollsters to take exact measurements, but presidential popularity constantly fluctuates, even to the point of complete disappointment. This is natural, because the result of elections reflects hopes and expectations based on past performance, campaign promises, and general appeal, not on the solid fore-knowledge of candidate's presidential performance.

That performance depends on a variety of personal characteristics which come into play as the president steers the ship of state amidst the ever-blowing political winds, storms and hurricanes, both from home and abroad.    

We've been told that character and personality are quintessential in a successful president. Political instincts which translate into the ability to build consensus around meaningful and clearly articulated policy objectives help too. And it goes without saying that, by the very definition of the highest office, the skill of evaluating possible policy approaches and choosing the most appropriate ones, is of paramount importance in the chief executive of the country.

I don't disagree with any of that; yet there is one other key skill that I haven't heard mentioned before, which is of key importance: imagination.

Why is it important? Because there are very many people acting on the world stage, and understanding their logic, their agenda, and their motivations is essential for successfully navigating the ship of state past the mines laid by those who are not necessarily sympathetic to us as individuals, nor sympathizing to America as leaders. Chavezes, Bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads are the company that the president has to keep, and has to successfully outsmart them, if he is to deserve the trust of the American people. In that task, it is essential to be able to get inside the adversary's mind - and that's where imagination is the key.

But imagination is not a common talent. It is a must for a good writer, and for a good actor. But there is a problem. Any talent is fairly rare by itself; and a combination of talents in one person is even rarer. A great, imaginative writer may have zero talent for business (as was the case of no less a luminary than the very great Mark Twain), or may be morally dumb (as was Nobel laureate and, later, enthusiastic Nazi Knut Gamsun.) With so many talents that a politician just has to have, imagination may be just one too many, and unrealistic for us to expect.

The danger posed by an unimaginative politician is extremely serious. Because our own psyche sits so naturally with us, we automatically assume that it is natural for everyone to be like us, and the absence of ability to imagine a different mindset can be all but lethal. "Because I am good," reasons the exemplar of unimaginative politicians, ex-president Carter, "everyone is good." As a result, he was unprepared to face off someone not as good as himself - Ayatollah Khomenei, for instance. And imagination, as any other talent, cannot really be learned - so in his post-presidential career Mr. Carter, who thinks of himself as good, invariably treated others as being equally good. Arafat was good and trustworthy (as we know, it is all Israel's fault); North Korea's Kim was good and trustworthy - good and trustworthy enough to get a nuclear reactor.    

One such good president is far more than enough. I confess I don't care much for the externals in a president. As far as I am concerned, he may be white, he may be black, he may be Catholic, or Protestant, or Mormon or Jewish, he may be a man, he may be a woman, he may be young, he may be old - but because I do not believe that politicians have sufficient imagination, I want a candidate who is in no need of that faculty; and the only people that can deal with bad people without a need to imagine badness in people, are bad people themselves. This kind doesn't need to rely on imagination to see traps, because that ability is inherent in them, by virtue of their own badness. Being bad themselves, they will be able to see badness in others without any extra effort - but will be naturally watchful, will suspect the worst rather than hope for the best, and watch the fellow actors on world scene with mistrust - and will thus be able to foresee and pre-empt potential dangers to the country.

Call this trait "experience," call it "realism," and if you really want, call it "badness" - but, if you ask me, in a dangerous world we live in, only such experienced, realistic, bad man deserves American presidency.

Vel Nirtist writes mainly on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly. His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com
By the very nature of democracy, the day after elections most Americans are happy with their new president. Though, due to our electoral system, the popular vote is not always reflected in the final outcome, by and large a person gets elected to the highest office because most Americans think they've gotten the best president available.

As we all know, this happy feeling does not stay constant. It is a job of pollsters to take exact measurements, but presidential popularity constantly fluctuates, even to the point of complete disappointment. This is natural, because the result of elections reflects hopes and expectations based on past performance, campaign promises, and general appeal, not on the solid fore-knowledge of candidate's presidential performance.

That performance depends on a variety of personal characteristics which come into play as the president steers the ship of state amidst the ever-blowing political winds, storms and hurricanes, both from home and abroad.    

We've been told that character and personality are quintessential in a successful president. Political instincts which translate into the ability to build consensus around meaningful and clearly articulated policy objectives help too. And it goes without saying that, by the very definition of the highest office, the skill of evaluating possible policy approaches and choosing the most appropriate ones, is of paramount importance in the chief executive of the country.

I don't disagree with any of that; yet there is one other key skill that I haven't heard mentioned before, which is of key importance: imagination.

Why is it important? Because there are very many people acting on the world stage, and understanding their logic, their agenda, and their motivations is essential for successfully navigating the ship of state past the mines laid by those who are not necessarily sympathetic to us as individuals, nor sympathizing to America as leaders. Chavezes, Bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads are the company that the president has to keep, and has to successfully outsmart them, if he is to deserve the trust of the American people. In that task, it is essential to be able to get inside the adversary's mind - and that's where imagination is the key.

But imagination is not a common talent. It is a must for a good writer, and for a good actor. But there is a problem. Any talent is fairly rare by itself; and a combination of talents in one person is even rarer. A great, imaginative writer may have zero talent for business (as was the case of no less a luminary than the very great Mark Twain), or may be morally dumb (as was Nobel laureate and, later, enthusiastic Nazi Knut Gamsun.) With so many talents that a politician just has to have, imagination may be just one too many, and unrealistic for us to expect.

The danger posed by an unimaginative politician is extremely serious. Because our own psyche sits so naturally with us, we automatically assume that it is natural for everyone to be like us, and the absence of ability to imagine a different mindset can be all but lethal. "Because I am good," reasons the exemplar of unimaginative politicians, ex-president Carter, "everyone is good." As a result, he was unprepared to face off someone not as good as himself - Ayatollah Khomenei, for instance. And imagination, as any other talent, cannot really be learned - so in his post-presidential career Mr. Carter, who thinks of himself as good, invariably treated others as being equally good. Arafat was good and trustworthy (as we know, it is all Israel's fault); North Korea's Kim was good and trustworthy - good and trustworthy enough to get a nuclear reactor.    

One such good president is far more than enough. I confess I don't care much for the externals in a president. As far as I am concerned, he may be white, he may be black, he may be Catholic, or Protestant, or Mormon or Jewish, he may be a man, he may be a woman, he may be young, he may be old - but because I do not believe that politicians have sufficient imagination, I want a candidate who is in no need of that faculty; and the only people that can deal with bad people without a need to imagine badness in people, are bad people themselves. This kind doesn't need to rely on imagination to see traps, because that ability is inherent in them, by virtue of their own badness. Being bad themselves, they will be able to see badness in others without any extra effort - but will be naturally watchful, will suspect the worst rather than hope for the best, and watch the fellow actors on world scene with mistrust - and will thus be able to foresee and pre-empt potential dangers to the country.

Call this trait "experience," call it "realism," and if you really want, call it "badness" - but, if you ask me, in a dangerous world we live in, only such experienced, realistic, bad man deserves American presidency.

Vel Nirtist writes mainly on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly. His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com