We voters have a quandary. We aren’t impressed with the most frequently mentioned presidential candidates. In our vast nation, there are no doubt thousands, or maybe even millions, of people who would be better qualified by character, ability and temperament to be presidents of our country, but they do not run. Instead, others do run — party hacks, ideologues with narrow perspectives, spokespersons for interest groups, relatives of former officials and recipients of excess money.

I am not totally discouraged, yet, because so much of the campaign is ahead of us. Perhaps someone of quality will emerge.

Many of us are not hyperconcerned about exactly where the candidates sit to the right or the left of the political spectrum. We take a more orthogonal view. We care about integrity, character, good judgment, appreciation of others’ views and trustworthiness. We seek these characteristics among the candidates of both major parties — so we can have a restful choice. If teamwork and good leadership are in place, there are enough checks and balances in the system to make some progress. Our greatest problems develop when one party becomes dominant and when no one is appreciating the concerns of the other side.

A patient review of history should give us cause to seek a richer assortment of candidates. Although some may be disappointed in President Obama, he probably compares favorably to either of his two most recent predecessors. The Clinton administration did a poor job of enforcing antitrust laws by permitting huge mergers of some of the largest companies in the world — Pfizer and Warner-Lambert; Citicorp and Travelers; Bell Atlantic and General Telephone; WorldCom and MCI; Qwest and US West. The string of unprecedented megamergers of major oil companies — Exxon and Mobil in 1999; BP and Amoco in 1998; Atlantic Richfield into BP in 2000, and others — under Clinton prompted Louis Rukeyser, then host of “Wall Street Week,” to remark, “John D. Rockefeller must be cackling now.”

Then there were the free-trade agreements, which were not wrong in spirit but were negotiated with such laxity that much of the industrial base of the United States was forced into abrupt contraction, resulting in the ultimate loss of 7 million manufacturing jobs. Similar laxity was present in the enforcement of securities laws, which gave rise to the WorldCom, Enron and Global Crossing fiascos.

George W. Bush’s subsequent administration was not better. The ill-considered land wars in Asia have worsened American prestige, alliances and financial strength. Meanwhile, foolish tax cuts and the practice of funding the longest war in American history by borrowing from China has left the country in a dubious financial position, exposed to unnecessary leverage from overseas forces.

In the United States, we do have some reliable, thoughtful politicians, including several here in Minnesota: Tom Bakk, David Hann, Terri Bonoff and Tom Horner. No doubt there are many highly competent, upstanding leaders at the national level. I hope they come forth.

Wouldn’t we prefer to be able to select from a respected slate of candidates from both major parties? But as we look at the list of prominent front-runners and potential nominees, we cannot miss unfavorable characteristics. Huge contributions from sources with vested interests, catering to vocal interest groups, name recognition because of relatives — and the substitution of sound-bite rhetoric for thoughtful dialogue.

Nearly 320 million people live in the United States, and many of them have credentials, experiences and values quite in excess of most of the candidates frequently mentioned. How about some of these people?

Our damaged world has vast problems with resource scarcity, water, nutrition, health care and the environment. It strikes me as a bit odd that among the rumored candidates there is no scientist, no engineer, no one commercially experienced in how to make large organizations achieve their objectives more efficiently, no one who seems to really understand the economics of health care and no one who has lived in a far-less-prosperous country. For instance, imagine what it could be like if we could develop modern combined-cycle power and resource-recovery plants that could more economically convert saltwater to fresh water. Think what effect that would have on world hunger, health and the environment. Instead of running around the world blowing things up, our country might become known for doing something useful.

Our candidates appear to have one skill: the articulation of opponents’ shortcomings. I wonder what the public reception might be if any candidate would say, “My opponent has offered a good idea. Let’s consider it.”

With the urgent problems we have before us, I do hope that something can be done to keep the 2016 presidential election from turning into what we have seen a few times in the country’s past — the evil of two lessers.

 

Fred Zimmerman, of Minnetonka, is a retired professor of engineering and management. He’s at zimco@visi.com.