Do I want a president who is wise? Or do I want a president who agrees with me? Do I conflate agreement with wisdom? Chances are I do. But I don’t want to.
For here are the qualities that I really seek in a president – or any other leader, for that matter:
I want my president to be smarter than I am. Smart as in wise and well-read and open to all options and able to assimilate a lot of information in a fairly short amount of time and able to think long-term consequences as well as short-term gains. I want my president to see farther than I can.
2. I want my president to have spiritual depth. I do not seek a president who will be my spiritual leader. The structure of our governance does not allow for a ‘pastor-in-chief’ (a phrase I first heard used by a conservative whose name I cannot recall about George W. Bush, but which has since been used to refer to Obama, Romney and Santorum on different occasions). Those running for the office of president are not qualified to act as spiritual leaders – their expertise lies in the realm of the temporal. That is not to say that they lack spiritual depth of their own; it is to say that personal spiritual depth is a very different thing than leading others in spiritual ways.
I want a president who understands the concept of collective sacrifice and can explain it to us as a nation in a way we can hear, understand, and heed. We live in challenging and difficult times. But we might do well to recall history in order to recall that every generation has lived in challenging and difficult times in one form or another. I want my leader to tell me the hard things to hear, to not shy away from what the opinion polls might negatively react to, to challenge us to give more, do more, be more, to recall that we did not get where we are by wishing.
4. I want a president who respects the office and the oath as much when it comes to enemies as to friends. I want my president to respect my freedom of speech more, not less, when we disagree. I vow to do the same and give him* a fair hearing.
5. When deciding the best interests of the nation, I want my president to remember that honor and integrity are as much a part of the best interests of the nation as are physical and economic security and act accordingly.
6. If my president must be beholden (and I would prefer he were not) to anyone, I would prefer he see himself as beholden to me for my one vote, however I exercise it, as to any of the myriad of corporations and special-interest groups who will donate millions to his election efforts.
7. I want my president to be a good student of history, starting with our own: not our mythology, but our history – the good and the bad of it.
8. I want my president to put away the cheerleader pom-poms, discard the talk of exceptionalism, and get down to the business of governance. It’s hard work. It requires dedication, effort, attention, and truth-telling. Telling us what we want to hear is a waste of our time.
9. When it comes to problem-solving, I want my president to begin with identifying the problem and the causes. Seldom, if ever, is one person, let alone one party, solely responsible for the ills of a nation. Thus, for example, when it comes to curing our economic ills, I’d like my president to remind me of my own part in all of this as citizen Beth: Wall Street, government deregulation (accomplished by both parties working together), corporate savagery, all have their place. But so too does individual greed, the idea of buying above our means, of entitlement not to life’s necessities, but to its luxuries. In other words, I would very much like to be treated as a grown-up and reminded that my behavior must change too if we are to come out of our economic woes as a nation.
10. I don’t want to see my president all that often, as I would prefer him to be busy about the business of the nation.
11. I want my president to be the best him he can be. I do not require my president to shake my hand or have a beer or even want to have a beer with me. He need not look like me, act like me, or even think like me. I am not the best yardstick for a good president. If he is to be a great or even a good president, he must be true to himself.
12. I want my president to hire people to work for him who passionately disagree with him. Being surrounded by sycophants is an invitation to believe in the truth of one’s own publicity, which is a sure beginning of foolishness. Hearing from people who think differently is crucial to seeing the world more broadly, to learning new ideas, to working around problems in ways perhaps he never before even imagined.
So, fellow citizens, I don’t know what you’re looking for in a president. But I do know this: for far, far too long, we have settled for far, far too little from our leaders. We have demanded they be just like us, and to borrow from the kids, we aren’t all that.
For my own part, I will not celebrate ignorance. I will not rejoice in the language of moral rectitude that has no backbone. I will not be jollied by platitudes and slogans. I will not believe the attack ads.
I will listen. And I will read and learn. I will explore. I will pray. I will decide. And then and only then will I cast my vote.
And at the end of the day, whoever wins, I hope they retire to have that proverbial beer not with me, but with their friends, for surely they will have earned at least that much respect and well-wishing from me.
*I believe fervently in inclusive language. I use ‘he’ and ‘him’ herein because the only viable candidates in this particular election are male.