Memo For File CV

One of the very first things covered by President Obama during His inaugural speech was the “fact,” if you call it that, that forty-four Americans have now taken the Presidential oath of office. He got that one wrong, but the fact-checkers didn’t catch it because they were too busy screening Saturday Night Live skits. But His observation does raise an interesting point: We’ve had quite a few Presidents. Some have been good, some have been bad, and with a whole lot of them it depends on who you ask.

When we argue about the people who may or may not become President in the near future, that’s when we really go at it, and this makes sense too. One arrives rather quickly at the realization that we don’t seem to disagree too much about what qualities the candidates do & do not have; our disagreement seems to be about what is important to the office. This part, it seems to me, doesn’t make that much sense. We haven’t had forty-four men take the oath of office quite yet, but we have had something very close to that. Wouldn’t it be wise to look back and see what history has taught us?

When I look back on what history has taught us, I see — once again — the prevailing sentiment has things about 180 degrees off course, more-or-less.

The prevailing sentiment smiles, first and foremost, on boldness, daring, “trying something new.” Creativity, vision, hope, change…perhaps Robert Kennedy, not one of the 44 guys, said it best. “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why; I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Inspiration. New ideas. Thinking outside of that ol’ box!

History is pretty clear about this. It’s led to multi-generational new social entitlement program bullsh*t, and the feeling of dependency and crushing debt that go along with those. Not much else.

Next up is jut-jawed determination, grit, resolve, integrity. This is not an ability or willingness to make good decisions; this is the quality of sticking to them once they are made. We have good reason to insist on this. If you’re President, and you make a decision I kinda don’t like but it doesn’t completely offend the hell out of me…let’s say there are other options I would have preferred, but there are others I detest much more, so I could learn to live with it. It’s important that as you meet all these other power-players that a President meets, I know you’re going to stick to your guns.

I would have to say in my lifetime, the one President who had more of this than any other was our 43rd, George W. Bush. Well, frankly that didn’t work out too well for him. He left office on a steep downslide in his approval ratings…but with no one willing to step forward and say he was missing even so much of a smidgen of this quality. And I would infer it was this quality that was instrumental in bringing those approval ratings down. His predecessor was much more popular, and I would say that predecessor had less of this than any other President in our lifetime. Bill Clinton would say something on Monday, and by Tuesday…who knows what would happen. So this is something we say we like. But I think it’s a fair assessment to comment the public is demanding this quality in its Presidents, but it isn’t willing to show much of it itself. It sees an annoyingly broad latitude in changing its mind about it.

The next quality is unnamed. Barack Obama has oodles and oodles of this, but nobody is quite sure what it is. You heard this much discussed throughout the 2008 campaign, especially when He was locked in a fierce battle with Hillary Clinton for the nomination. “There’s just something about Him!” Some people call it leadership because when He says something, like “grab a mop” for example, there arises within you this primal instinct to get it done. The marrow of your bones seem to just want to start mopping. Authority, confidence, blah blah blah. He never stutters or stammers…says “uh” quite a lot, but always with dignity and flair.

What’s this done for us over the course of the previous 43 administrations?

Well, it’s helped to sell us a lot of crap. Salesmen learn how to do this; if it is their trade to deal with bad product. Hey let’s face it, if your product is compatible with the interests of the buyer, your “charisma” isn’t going to help the sale a whole lot. An average-Joe can get just as much sold. You need excellent salesmen if you’re trying to move a sh*tty product. So this “I don’t know why I want to do what he says, it’s just the way I feel!” thing is a distinguishing characteristic of flim-flam men and liars. And indeed, our history is seasoned with quite a few Presidents who were superior in all kinds of ways, whose voices were awkward, squeaky, meandering…interestingly, most of them existed in the days before it was possible to make any kind of audible document. We have to read the written word of their contemporaries, to get a feel for what their voices sounded like. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hopey-changey charisma-or-whatever back there.

Believing in peace? That’s been an enormous bust, probably the biggest one. If I have to come up with a list to illustrate the point, you’re never going to get the point. The Presidents who believed in war have done a lot more good for our nation. Note that I didn’t say “who loved war”; I said believe in war. I can think, right off the top of my head, of four Presidents who believed in war but properly despised it as any decent human being must. Perhaps the quote attributed to Reagan, supposedly uttered during the PATCO strike, sums up the vision and the sentiment of an effective U.S. President: “If there’s going to be a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” I know of no phrase in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers or any correspondence among they who founded the nation, that contradicts this. Our nation’s Chief Executive is a ripper-offer of band-aids. Get it over with.

Honesty? That goes without saying.

Loyalty? That goes without saying as well. But of course loyalty is a tricky thing. You have to prioritize it. If it was possible to be loyal to everyone all the time, it would be an easy, simple job to be President. And of course it isn’t.

Does wisdom play a role? That, too, goes without saying. The President must be able to look down the road, consider the effects of his decisions over the short term as well as the longer one. How good of a job do we do on insisting on this? The argument that George W. Bush failed to consider the more distant implications of his decisions, seems to hold water at first. But when one thinks back to the events of early 2003 and recalls them with honesty, one sees this is a crock. The matter was deliberated over and over and over again; the pro-peace people were granted one fair hearing after another, after another, and then they took to the streets all over the world to riot just to make sure the point got across. It got across. But the problem was, we were dealing with an as**ole who needed to be taken down. France, later revealed to be on-the-take via the Oil For Food program, used their veto power on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and that’s when George Bush went around the process. The debacles that came afterward made this seem unwise. But real wisdom is recognizing all the available options, and when each and every single one of those options suck, maintaining an ability to select the least-sucky out of all of them.

So I would say our prevailing viewpoint is that wisdom is important, and the prevailing viewpoint is correct about this.

Reviewing the events of the past decade, I would further observe the prevailing viewpoint measures wisdom as the ability to “conjure up” a non-sucky option that does not necessarily exist. And I would comment that the prevailing viewpoing is wrong about that.

Once an option is chosen, wisdom stands behind the notion that it was the best one. It does not stand behind the notion that it was a good option. You have to play the cards you’re dealt.

How about a willingness to go out and seek the wisdom? Does a good President have the patience and courage to listen to the wisdom of our children?

Nope. Children don’t have wisdom. They’re too young. Next question.

How about knowing where the bodies are buried, like Lyndon Baines Johnson did? Does that make for an effective President? What does history say about that?

History says this is a useful thing for getting things passed the President wants passed; especially when the President is trying to overcome stiff opposition to get it passed. And can improve his odds in this effort, by sidestepping logical, rational debate. And legitimate criticism. So if the President is trying to sell a crock of bullsh*t, knowing where the bodies are buried can be very helpful…to him. It tends to be injurious to everybody else. You can’t depend on such men to have a decent internal working understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. Probably won’t happen. After all, this guy knows where bodies are buried! How does he know?

President Johnson’s legacy is about as tattered as anybody else’s, Nixon included. Johnson was an as**ole, perhaps a sociopath, and may not even have been sane. He conducted conferences in the sh*tter, while he was defecating. All in all, I’m gonna have to go with no. Were it possible to have some kind of Constitutional amendment that says “No citizen shall serve as President if he knows where the bodies are buried,” I’d favor passage of that. History, it seems, would favor passage of this as well. This hasn’t helped our country one bit.

Belief in freedom? That goes on the “Yes” side. Actually, that’s the first thing we’re supposed to be trying to find. Our Presidents haven’t failed us here. We have been failing our country, by failing to support this and vote for it.

Telling us what you’re going to do, before you’re elected to get it done? Again — huge “yes.” It’s the Presidents who keep this a closely-guarded secret who have been the big fails. That includes our current one. He’s making history with the speed of erosion of His approval ratings, and there’s a reason for it: His election was less concerned with policy decisions, compared to any other Presidential election in my lifetime, easily. We didn’t talk about what He’d do, we just talked about how wonderful He is. That’s our fault. But then He saw that as an easy road to victory, and He made the most of it. That’s His fault. Now He’s reaping the whirlwind. Mega-fail.

Looking like you have it all together when you get interviewed? I hope that’s not very important. If it is, that means our teevee reporters are kingmakers, and frankly I don’t trust them. As for how big of a factor it is, it’s up to Sarah Palin to decide if we’re going to conduct an experiment on that…since I don’t think anyone’s flubbed it worse than she has. But on the other hand: The second-place prize goes to President Obama, for his “President Gigglepuss” interview in which Steve Kroft had to ask Him if He was “punch drunk.” That was an enormous bomb, but it didn’t hurt the President’s ability to preside, not in the least. So those who say this hurt Palin, need to find a way to explain why it’s damaging to her and not to Him. Perhaps they’re still correct…public reaction can be a fickle, nonsensical thing. But overall, does it have much to do with presidential qualifications, after I chew on it for awhile I don’t think so.

Knowing who the Minister of (fill in the blank) is for the country of (fill in the blank), and knowing how to pronounce the name. We place a lot of importance on this, and this is an awful mistake. It means debate moderators and interviewers — who I don’t trust — can all-but-eject promising candidates from the running, simply by coming up with challenging questions. And you’ll notice they never ask the same question of all the candidates, or even many of the candidates. It’s targeted. They don’t deserve to wield this kind of power, nor are they worthy of wielding it. And being the President of the United States is not the same thing as playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. This is bone-headed stupid and we have to stop it.

Knowing how to field dress a moose. No.

Knowing how to use a Blackberry. No.

Knowing how to type. No.

Knowing some dance moves. No.

Looking good shirtless. No.

Looking good on the cover of Runner’s World in short shorts. No.

Being a beltway insider. No.

Being a newcomer to the beltway. No.

Having five kids. No.

Planting a vegetable garden. No.

Knowing how to fire a gun. No.

Believing in the right to have a gun: HELL yes!

Having a law degree. I wonder how the country would look after fifty years of Presidents who do NOT have law degrees. A whole lot better, I’ll bet. Inch by inch, as lawyers get more things they want, our nation has become the poorer for it. So no.

Being sensitive, contemplative, mulling over a decision, changing it thoughtfully with the arrival of new evidence: Absolutely not. Overall, people make much better decisions when they say to themselves “In thirty seconds, or ten, or five, I’m going to have this thing decided and there’ll be no looking back.” When they use the latitude to mull it over endlessly, their sense of judgment gets shot to hell, and as a consequence of this, their ultimate decision ends up being not that good. We just saw it with Obama’s decision on Afghanistan; is there anyone, anywhere, who says this was a good show of decision-making? Even among those who somehow agree with it? No, and there’s a lesson there. Besides, when you’re negotiating with an antagonistic force, and you take the Jean-Luc Picard approach of “I’m open to anything and my decision-making process is an endless and timeless Hoover-vac type of activity that sucks in and makes use of all kinds of of information” — this makes new strategies available to your enemy. The other extreme at the opposite end of the spectrum, would be a tornado. Nobody tries to win concessions out of a tornado. You either get the hell out of the way or you’re dead. We don’t elect our President to be a Captain Picard. We elect our President to be a tornado. At least, we should.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes.

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