Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Do We Want From Politicians?

I hope that this entry does not read as a rant, and that impression is not intended -- but if that is the impression that is perceived, please consider that I have given fair warning from the beginning.

What does American society demand from the individuals who aspire to hold the most powerful executive office in the country, the Presidency of the United States?

Many attributes are sought in a capable executive - as a leader of America's bureaucracy, as the commander of the military, and as the foremost of our diplomats, enormous levels of skill, experience, and ingenuity are required.

However, many Americans seem to care mainly about things which I charitably define as "extraneous".

No, I don't want a President I would feel comfortable having a beer with.

We admire Lincoln because of his sober decision-making. In fact, he was a teetotaler.

Not that there's anything wrong with drinking -- but there's nothing wrong with refrain or sober responsibility, either.

I find it absurd and insulting that candidates like Hillary Clinton felt that they had to drink shots with "the people" in places like Crown Point, Indiana so they could be perceived as a "regular gal" or a "regular guy".

There are rituals which candidates must undergo perpetually -- certain constituencies, more powerful than others, must be appeased. These shamans of popular faith control the bedrock values of our society...

But I'm not talking about Rick Warren. I'm talking about Ellen DeGeneres, I'm talking about Oprah, and I'm talking about Larry King.

If we focused more on the candidates' qualifications and less on their dancing skills, I think this would be a better country for all of us, propelled by a more informed and cautious citizenry.

Now, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with Ellen, or Oprah, or Larry King, or even Rick Warren, that is inherently bad.

I just believe that politics is not the ideal territory of popular culture - or maybe I just resent the dancing.


Matt said...

I have some stuff to say, but I really need to go to bed, so it'll have to wait. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

And I'm glad to see you're posting more!

Anonymous said...

So are you saying that I should not be incensed that Barack and Mrs. B do the town in NYC -- fiddling while Rome burns? Tee hee.

Alex said...

Thanks, Matt!

I have at least one more post planned for this week.

If nothing else, I'll force myself to keep writing.

Matt said...

Okay, I have some time now, haha.

I actually must say that I agree with you 99% on this one. But since there's hardly any point in me writing a response that simply reiterates what you just said, I'll briefly sum up my views and then elaborate some on the 1% I disagree with.

I agree that it's absurd for certain candidates to feel obligated to drink shots to build rapport with voters. Or to go on talk shows or comedy shows to prove that they're "hip". Whatever that means.

On the other hand - and here's that 1% part - I think it's also important that we know something about the candidate's character and personality. You might ask what this has to do with being "just another regular guy/gal". Well, I think a lot of people subconsiously relate to someone who does a lot of the same things they do (like attending sporting events, going hunting, eating at Susan's Diner, etc). Even though it may not really be the case, people tend to look at this and think to themselves, "Hey, Candidate X is a Steelers fan too! We must have a lot in common and share the same values!"

This statement isn't really logical, but it's the mental connection many people make. And it's a mental connection politicians like to capitalize on to score votes.

So, like I said, people put way too much stock in this sort of thing. I put 1% stock in it.

What's far more useful in determining a candidate's character and values is looking at their record. You can learn a lot more about a canddate by the people they associate with, the policies they advocate, the churches they attend, and the way they treat those around them than you can by watching them hunt or fish or drink shots or dance or sing or crack jokes.