Monday, February 20, 2006

The Presidential Pendulum (Part 1)

Recent comments by Ken Mehlman regarding Hillary Clinton, while appropriately slammed by Left-Over, did get me thinking about the type of candidate Americans prefer to elect as President, particularly when the pendulum swings from one party to another. Conservatives are pushing the idea that Americans always like “cheerful” candidates with impeccable “manners” rather than “angry” ones. However, this seems like a calculated strategy to capitalize on the fact that they are currently giving any of their potential opponents plenty to be angry about! Ultimately, I think the real answer is that when the pendulum swings, Americans like a candidate who best compensates for the most glaring deficiencies of the last president.

To test this theory, I considered the succession of presidents since Nixon, and noted that there have been four pendulum swings: Nixon/Ford to Carter to Reagan/Bush to Clinton to Bush II. Admittedly, I am oversimplifying here, but with the idea that presidential elections often hinge on simple perceptions.

Nixon’s deficiencies clearly were characterized by his being secretive, paranoid and rather cold. He was not a likeable fellow, and was proven to be highly dishonest. Since Ford merely assumed the presidency after Nixon was forced to resign, I will consider him an extension of the Nixon presidency (as I will do with Reagan/Bush.)

Nixon/Ford were followed by the election of Jimmy Carter, an exceedingly warm, open and likeable man whose personal qualities could be considered to help wipe away the memories of Nixon. However, despite his intelligence and sincere desire to do what he thought was right, Carter’s glaring deficiency was that his openness led him to show the complexity of the job. He appeared indecisive, as exemplified during the Iran hostage crisis when his flaws were widely noticed by the public.

Carter was followed by Ronald Reagan - a charismatic actor who could confidently and without hesitation say anything his handlers told him to say. After Carter, America wanted a strong, John Wayne type who would never hesitate to know what to say or do. Unfortunately, what he did was to enact policies that were highly partisan and to many seemed underhanded (like Iran/Contra). Furthermore, he did not come across as a very intelligent man. With Reagan, it often seemed as if he was doing little more than charmingly reading a script he had been given by others. Bush was basically Reagan without the charm but a bit more involved in decision making.

After Reagan/Bush, America elected Bill Clinton, who was exceedingly bright and charming, and clearly able to run his own show. With Clinton, there was never any suspicion that he was merely reading someone else’s script. He was able to find ways to bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives that festered during the Reagan/Bush era, although a few of the latter still hated him for cutting Bush’s presidency short. By the end of his second term, however, Clinton revealed a notable deficiency in the area of personal discipline. In short, he couldn’t keep it in his pants, and even many liberals became disillusioned by his famously poor judgment regarding Monica Lewinsky!

Which leads to our current President, George W. Bush, whose “election” and deficiencies will have to be the topic of an entire post all to itself . . . .

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