The ‘Right Stuff’ for the Presidency
An old joke I heard during my brief time in the opera business went something like this: There are four types of tenors: leggiero, lyric, spinto, and heldentenor. The leggiero tenor has no balls. The lyric tenor has one ball. The spinto tenor has two balls. And the heldentenor has two balls, and he’s standing on one of them.
The joke might be funny only to opera goers, especially those who attend the Bayreuth Festival. But allow me to add that the recently-departed Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers had three or four balls and never needed to stand on any of them. (As you might guess, I’m a fan of that late, great singer.)
In any event, balls bring us to Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the U.K. Some might think it rude to say that the “Iron Lady” had more balls than the men of her day leading other European nations -- rude, that is, to Lady Thatcher, who was every inch a woman. However, it could be said that compared to some of her male counterparts, Mrs. Thatcher certainly had no fewer balls.
What is meant by “balls” is: guts, grit, courage, will, determination, and resolve. But those attributes can also work in the service of evil; Hitler certainly had “will,” didn’t he? So there must be other qualities that are needed in the leader of a nation besides balls. Just what are those other qualities that make a person fit to be the prime minister or the president of a great nation?
At a recent rally in New Hampshire, former president Clinton spoke of his wife Hillary: “I spent a lot of time thinking about this. I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience, and temperament to do what needs to be done now to restore prosperity, to deal with these human issues, to make us as safe as possible. Thank you very much [short video].”
Okay, but why believe him? After all, the former president has a record of lying, even under oath in a grand jury. Perhaps Bill’s just trying to get himself back in the White House. And I’d like to remind the former president that he was alive in 1946. So his “lifetime” includes the runs for president of Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and Reagan. Hillary’s more qualified than those guys? C’mon, Bill.
“Going the Distance,” a January 2014 article in The New Yorker, is often cited for Pres. Obama’s reference to ISIS as a junior varsity basketball team: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” (And getting elected president doesn’t mean one is fit to be president, Mr. President.)
Another Obama quote from that same article is germane to our issue of what are the essentials, the “right stuff,” for being president: “I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every president, like every person. I do think one of my strengths is temperament.”
Is that a fact? Does Obama have the correct temperament for the presidency? When Bill Clinton spoke in New Hampshire about his wife, he stressed the word “temperament.” So, what exactly is the ideal presidential temperament?
One important aspect of temperament is the ability and willingness to be collegial. “Collegiality” involves respecting one’s colleagues and listening to their ideas; it involves being open to others’ input. So many of the monumental achievements of the modern age, like going to the Moon, were massive collegial efforts, where folks pool their knowledge and expertise. Together, we’re smarter.
Barack Obama demonstrated a lack of collegiality at the Healthcare Summit in 2010. Senator McCain had just presented a very respectful call to revisit certain issues in the healthcare legislation that would become ObamaCare, and finished his comments saying, “I thank you, Mr. President.” Obama responded thus: “Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning anymore; the election’s over.” Some might have wished that McCain had responded in kind: Yes, Barry, I know, and I can’t explain the electorate’s bad judgment.
Fortunately, Sen. McCain was a gentleman and refrained from payback. Had he done so, it would have further poisoned the summit, (and he would have lowered himself to Obama’s level). There was nothing in Sen. McCain’s comments that was unreasonable, but the president couldn’t resist putting McCain in his place. What would possess someone to be so rude to a genuine American patriot? Was it that Sen. McCain wouldn’t let Obama cut him off: “Can I just finish, please?” Maybe that ticked off our little princeling. (You can watch McCain’s entire presentation by starting at the 2:21:10 mark of this C-SPAN video, or you can watch just the end, or this split-screen version positioned at Obama’s snark.)
Throughout his presidency, Obama has demonstrated a singular deficiency at collegiality. When Obama encounters questions he doesn’t like, he tries to shut down the questioner and end the discussion. When asked if the healthcare bill’s “individual mandate” were actually a tax, Obama would have none of it, and laughed at his questioner dismissively. Obama’s belief in his own pet ideas is so absolute that he is even comfortable overriding the best advice of his generals. Obama seems not to have an ability to work with others; it’s all “my way or the highway.” But there’s no need for collegiality if you already know everything. In “The Confident Ignorance of Barack Obama,” Thomas Sowell writes:
As Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School has pointed out, Obama made no effort to take part in the marketplace of ideas with other faculty members when he was teaching a law course there. What would be the point, if he already knew the truth and knew that they were wrong? [Italics added.]
The main objective of “political animals” like Obama and the Clintons is to get elected; it’s not to fix a broken America, nor to protect her. There are people who govern and there are people who campaign; Obama and the Clintons are the latter. Just look at the huge Republican electoral gains under Obama and the Clintons. It’s amazing that Democrats who still care about their party still support the very people who have brought it down.
America is so beaten up and broken right now that she needs a “savior,” like a Lincoln. If Obama doesn’t do the right thing and proceed with an indictment of Mrs. Clinton, then Republicans should “fight fire with oil” and nominate a woman. And they should also insist on a minority for running mate. Just to be sure, they probably ought to do those two things anyway. Carly Fiorina might just have the right temperament to be president, but there are other terrific conservative women that convention delegates could draft.
America needs a collegial president, not a “lyrical” one.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.