Let's Play Fantasy President
The recent debates and skirmishes among 2016 presidential candidates are beginning to remind me of 1976, when, in their infinite wisdom, the people of the United States searched among their best and wisest statesmen for a leader -- and came up with a choice between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
So far, it looks as if we will be forced to choose a president from a slate of mediocrities and monstrosities. With the fate of our country already precarious, and with no Eisenhower or Reagan in sight, I have retreated from reality by playing Fantasy President.
The game is much simpler than Fantasy Football, whose plethora of rules seems to exceed even those of the real NFL game. Fantasy President requires only three steps: (1) decide what you want the next president to accomplish, (2) list the qualities that he/she would need to do so, and (3) make a list of a
ll the candidates -- living or dead -- who fulfill those requirements.
Here’s what I have so far; you are welcome to modify or expand it:
(1) Accomplishments: We want a president who will
- inspire respect in our allies and fear in our enemies
- regain the initiative in trouble spots such as the Middle East
- bring problems such as immigration, drugs, and violence under control
- detect and deter potential terrorism
- stabilize the economy
- make the right appointments, especially to the Supreme Court
- open the discussion and eventual reform of long-range issues such as abortion
Note that this part of the game should be realistic. However much we may want it, we cannot include ending abortion or same-sex marriage because no president has the power to do so. Similarly, after centuries of nonsuccess, we cannot expect any president to eliminate poverty or the threat of Islam.
I interpret character as meaning that a president must be ethical, personable, decisive, and durable:
- “Ethical” includes honesty and a sound set of moral principles but doesn’t end there. It also implies humility, a high level of resistance to both the outer corruption of the political world and the inner corruption that power fosters, and (as a consequence of the above) an unblackmailable past.
- “Personable” includes a basic likeableness, enough extroversion to endure constantly being in the spotlight and shaking innumerable hands, the tactfulness to instinctively avoid gaffes and incivility, and hopefully, at least a little charisma.
- “Decisiveness”, which is essential for leadership, entails a delicate balance between persuasiveness and resistance to persuasion, coupled with the ability to make decisions swiftly and endure the consequences of a wrong decision without excessive remorse.
- “Durable” includes physical/emotional stamina and stability when under constant pressure and during emergencies. It implies a physically strong constitution, a stable moral and emotional nature, and in most cases, a tranquil family life. It also includes patience.
You may wish to add some other aspects of character but they will probably fall under one of the above.
With regard to competence, a president must be realistic, managerial, knowledgeable, and experienced.
- “Realistic” starts with a comprehensive grasp of the overall global and national situation but must also include knowing the difference between what can and can’t be changed. Long-range goals must be balanced by the ability to compromise on specific issues without sacrificing national and personal ideals.
- “Managerial” implies focus on major goals, the ability to prioritize, adroitness in multitasking and delegation, skill in negotiation, and the knack of picking the right advisors and choosing between conflicting recommendations. It also includes the ability to make quick judgements, as described by (of all people) Barack Obama: ”Speed. You are on 24/7 -- you have to respond immediately. The job of our office, to keep up and to respond quickly to anything that's happening but not be consumed by it”.
- “Knowledgeable”: A president must have a sound grasp of the basic aspects of all national and global issues. However, I would be suspicious of anyone with a glib solution for every issue; an occasional “I don’t know” or “I haven’t decided” would tend to reassure me that he really understands what he is saying and is not merely parroting the words of an advisor. Such competence implies an above-average intelligence, an extensive background of reading and briefing, and the ability to absorb and digest it. A certain amount of inventiveness and imagination would be a welcome bonus.
- “Experienced”: Theoretical knowledge is not good enough. A president must have hands-on experience in running a large organization and a proven record of having done so successfully. Gubernatorial experience is probably adequate; corporate, military, or congressional experience might also suffice.
Focus, or what Carpenter called “stance”, must be based on dedication. In less contentious eras, we could perhaps tolerate a president who regarded his tenure as merely the capstone of his career -- a kind of trophy. But in these desperate times, we have a right to expect a president to devote the rest of his life solely to the welfare of the nation, to the exclusion of any personal motive. In this regard, Ronald Reagan was an admirable example and William Jefferson Clinton a despicable one. In addition, as David Gelenter recently pointed out, a U.S. president should be primarily a nationalist, concerned with the welfare of his own nation, and only secondarily a globalist. And finally, my fantasy president should have a specific set of views, on all major issues, that are compatible with my own.
(3) Having established the rules of the game, we can now pick our slate of possible candidates, living or dead. Unfortunately, the latter predominate. Eisenhower and Reagan (in their primes) are on my list. Abraham Lincoln would almost certainly qualify; a friend has proposed Theodore Roosevelt.
Finding a living and eligible candidate is much harder. Though others might dispute my choice, I personally would feel comfortable if Mitt Romney became the next president. However, with the memory and wounds from the battle of 2012 still fresh, he has understandably bowed out. I can’t think of anyone else; you are welcome to try. But it may be harder than you think.
G.K. Chesterton once proposed that the only person fit to be king is somebody who doesn’t want the job. I think we have come to the converse impasse: the only people who want to run for president and who have a chance of getting elected are those who are unfit for the job. Although, as I’ve said before, running the gauntlet of the election process does prove that a successful candidate has some qualifications -- such as skill in negotiation, persuasiveness, and sheer stamina -- it also seems to be screening out candidates who have any reasonable amount of honesty, integrity, or humility. The skyrocketing cost of campaigning has virtually eliminated the possibility of maintaining ideals while making concessions to secure endorsements and funding from special interest groups. And the cynical football-shift switch from extremism in the primaries to centrism in the final campaign, as practiced by almost every candidate, has become a stale joke.
Moreover, as evidenced by the Trump phenomenon, the public is so besotted with celebrity mania that one of those Kardashian cuties could probably smile her way right into the White House. On the other hand, the presidency of the United States may have become too big a job for any one human being to handle.
In short, finding a suitably dedicated and competent presidential candidate may have literally become a fantasy.