To many of us, the already started 2016 presidential campaign has been disappointing. Perhaps we as voters have not been approaching the matter properly. We have been listening to what people say instead of asserting what kind of a president we would like to have. I suspect many people are looking for a rather basic set of attributes necessary for our next president.
It seems quite doubtful that any president could be successful while carrying an ambience of mistrust. Let us hope that the next president will possess both the personal attributes and personal history that will enable both citizens and those with whom power is shared to work effectively with the president.
Presidents deal with complicated situations that can be analyzed from a nearly infinite set of perspectives. The president should possess the ability to at least appreciate different situations and different perspectives. The president will need friends — in the private sector, in other leadership positions, among the ranks of workers, overseas, and in both major parties. Working only one side of the aisle rarely leads to lasting success.
Presidents need to be informed enough to be able to question “facts” as they are presented. Not all presidential advisers are good at what they do. The president should have enough well-cultivated and investigative curiosity to confidently appraise the wisdom of advice received from both adversaries and advisers. The president should be able to recognize what information is needed in order to make a proper decision, then have the tenacity to require the presentation of that essential information.
The president should avoid demonizing whole groups when individual behavior is what needs to be addressed. Horrific catastrophes have unfolded in the world when particular groups have been demonized — bourgeoisie, Jews, immigrants, police, the rich, the poor, minorities, others. The president should be wise enough to recognize that each of our groups contains saints as well as sinners, then have the skills to mobilize progress on the legitimate problems that so desperately need to be addressed.
Appreciation of the executive job
The president has an executive job. Our constitution awards the primary policymaking job to Congress. The president is supposed to enforce the laws of the land and effectively manage the huge responsibility of ensuring that vast bureaucracies and powerful military units operated both frugally and effectively. That, by itself, is a full-time job. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a president who made sure the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and all of the Cabinet ministers were all operating with both efficiency and effectiveness? Too often, performance of the executive function has been set aside in favor of policy initiatives — which are OK if the executive task is accomplished.
Do the leading candidates in both major parties possess these attributes, or any other set of favorable attributes? Perhaps a few do, but most do not. Should not we as citizens expect that our elected officials have the attributes we would like them to have? And, if already declared candidates do not meet our criteria, should we not ask someone else to run?
Fred Zimmerman, of Minnetonka, is a University of St. Thomas professor emeritus.