Dana Summers, Tribune Media Services
At last, a clash of credible candidates
- Article by: DAVID BANKS
- Star Tribune
- August 15, 2012 - 7:18 AM
Not that anyone has a parlor anymore -- mostly, just big kitchens -- but I propose a parlor game based on the recent completion of the candidate lineup for this year's presidential campaign.
The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in was 1988's. I've cast a ballot every time since, a rough quarter century's worth. At the risk of ridicule, repudiation and e-mails in all capital letters, I assert that it's now clear this election will be the first in which I will choose from major-party tickets composed entirely of credible candidates.
You read that right.
Before we proceed, I should explain what I mean by credibility. I don't mean "ideologically favorable." All of us place great importance on whether a candidate's views align with ours. Hopefully, our positions are well-considered and encompass more than one issue. Either way, ideology is sure to color our impressions. We just shouldn't give it exclusive control.
Credibility in a presidential candidate -- in any leader, really -- means having a passable degree of many qualities, including:
• The courage to be decisive when necessary, to be deliberative when it's not, and the wisdom to know the difference.
• The intellect to entertain conflicting ideas.
• The ability to explain complexity to a divided population that prefers simplicity.
• The judgment to appraise challenging situations soundly on short notice -- plus the ability to reflect this skill in public.
• The warmth to lead cheers and hold hands, and to come across as authentic in doing so.
• The empathy to understand a diverse America, personal background notwithstanding.
• The breadth and depth of experience suitable for the challenges most likely to arise.
• The integrity to respect the office and the role.
• The gravitas to be the person whose finger belongs on the button, figuratively or otherwise.
It's a lot to ask. Realistically, voters must compromise, but they should and do maintain high standards. So let's review what I've confronted until now:
• 1988 (Dan Quayle): An earnest man, and perhaps a smarter spud than he appeared to be, but a thin resume, and witless on his feet. Americans don't want to actually see their vice presidents take over (or run the show from behind the scenes), but they want to know that it's plausible.
• 1992 (Quayle again): Plus, Bill Clinton -- sharp and sloppy at the same time, and a greenhorn to boot ... leap of faith required here. Plus -- demonstrating that it's possible for a successful businessman to be recklessly unsuited to public service -- Ross Perot.
• 1996 (Bob Dole): This is perhaps a stretch, because his credentials were impeccable, but he was ... well, aged (after 70, a person's health and demeanor can go either way, but when they go bad, they can go in a hurry) and just too darn cranky. Americans could not imagine him feeling their pain, and in the typical presidency, there is no shortage of pain to feel. (Incidentally, Dole turned 89 last month, so he would have had a solid tenure, and just consider the things we could have avoided.)
• 2000 and 2004 (George W. Bush): George H.W. Bush was underappreciated. Despite his patrician's remove, he was a man of diplomacy, prudence and understated humor who simply didn't translate after eight years of the Great Communicator. George W., meanwhile, spent his inherited political capital presenting himself as everything his father wasn't and everything Ronald Reagan was, and he succeeded at the former.
•2008 (Sarah Palin): John McCain spent something like 17 minutes vetting his running mate. If he'd spent 18, he would have disqualified her. That he didn't, as a septuagenarian, disqualified him. It was a tremendous boost to Barack Obama, who could legitimately have been found wanting in experience had the bar not been lowered.
Which brings us to today:
• President Obama: Despite his inexperience at the time of his election, he clearly possesses analytical skills. In office, he has been confident enough to surround himself with big personalities (Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton) to fill in his gaps. He deliberates, then acts decisively. Despite deep economic and political pressures, the country functions. Trouble spot: Despite his skill at campaigning, he's been an ineffective communicator in chief.
• Joe Biden: The man thinks out loud, sometimes embarrassingly, but he's well-versed in policy, particularly foreign affairs, and he's in touch with average Americans. At the same time, he's a government insider, which is not a bad thing to be if you have to take over. Trouble spot: If pressed into service, would he be disciplined?
• Mitt Romney: Whatever you think of how he made his money or how he manages a budget, there's no doubt that he knows his way around a balance sheet, and that this is one of the key skills the victor will require. Despite his stuffed-suit routine, he's intelligent and only occasionally tongue-tied. Trouble spot: Definition.
• Paul Ryan: Most of us, if we knew him at all before Saturday, knew him as a budgetary antagonist. Good. We need nerds with courage. He's knowledgeable, he's authentic, and he's certainly on point. Trouble spot: Does he have a setting short of scorched earth?
• • •
The modern presidency is somewhat of a confidence game. A candidate seeks to gain trust not only for the chance to steer high-profile initiatives through a narcissistic Congress but also to control numerous less visible but equally consequential outcomes. The impacts are nearly countless.
If you're playing any sport with a ball, you know to pass not to where your teammate is, but to where he or she is going to be. Campaigns being what they are, a similar concept applies to passing responsibility to candidates. Where might they really be headed? Do they have the credibility to get there?
David Banks is the Star Tribune's assistant commentary editor.
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