Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Presidential Pendulum Wrecking Ball (Part 2)

In Part 1, I explored the premise that when the pendulum swings from one party to the other, Americans prefer to elect a President whose personal strengths offset the greatest deficiencies of the last President.

The theory breaks down a bit when you get to the transition from Clinton to Bush II, primarily because Bush wasn’t really elected over Al Gore by a majority of Americans. In this case, the pendulum was arguably shoved to the other side by a ruling of the Supreme Court. However, I think it can be argued that, along with electoral shenanigans, one of the main reasons Bush got close to enough votes to become President is that his born-again, “regular guy” persona was a sharp contrast to Clinton’s notable discipline problem and slick manner of talking his way out of it. Never mind that Bush was a phony, who hasn’t live up to any of the carefully cultivated perceptions that voters had of him. He was, in many ways, the Anti-Clinton.

As for Bush’s deficiencies, well - short of running out to buy a larger hard drive, I’ll have to pare them down to just the most prominent ones. First of all, he is dishonest. From calling himself a “compassionate conservative” to saying he has never met Jack Abramoff, and nearly everything in between, he is, plainly put, a liar! He also lacks a certain mental capacity that one would expect from a President - or even a dog catcher for that matter! Without the benefit of his family’s wealth and connections, it’s easy to imagine young George riding to school in the small bus! Lastly, he has an embarrassing lack of poise, frequently saying the most ridiculous things at the wrong times, with a petulant, irritable tone that often makes it difficult to tolerate hearing his voice.

With the direction America seems to be heading lately, given the right candidate on the Democratic side, the pendulum could be swinging with the power of a wrecking ball! So which Democratic candidate possesses the qualities that would best help Americans recover from the second Bush Presidency?

He or she would have to be someone with a sterling record of integrity and courage, who follows conscience rather than shifting with the political winds. After Bush, America will need a period that is free from political deception and opportunism from either party.

He or she would have to be someone who is highly intelligent, who can synthesize information, and who projects superior competence. After Bush, Americans will be desperately in need of a president who they perceive as being capable of coming up with better ideas than they can imagine – someone who will be too busy doing the job of President to sit down and have a beer with them.

And he or she would have to be someone who is eloquent and judicious in the use of language, who can adapt to different situations and communicate effectively without risk of embarrassing gaffes. After Bush, Americans will want someone they trust to improve our reputation in the world – someone who will generate respect instead of being frequent fodder for late night comedians.

At this point, nearly three years away from the next presidential election, I’m not going to speculate on which of the Democratic hopefuls seem to best display these qualities (though I have my current favorite in mind as I write). I will say that John Kerry isn’t the guy, and neither is Howard Dean, who I supported over Kerry in the 2002 Democratic primary.

For now, I will just say that these are the qualities that will be at the forefront of my thoughts, forming the yardstick by which I measure any potential Democratic presidential candidate.


  1. First, Bush is a big government conservative. Entitlement spending has jumped by a considerable margin...indeed he created an entirely new entitlement with his prescription drug program. You may not deem it compassionate, but it is as close to that adjective as any self-described conservative will get.

    Second, Bush has a record of faux pas but he has also given a number of speeches (most notably his second inaugural address) that will probably occupy more space in the history books than said missteps. He is no master of the spoken word, but his speeches have been as well-written as anyone in recent memory, Reagan included.

    Third, as per the major thrust of your post, I think the perception of intellectualism has long been a drawback. Carter and Wilson were the sole bona fide intellectuals to inhabit the White House and they have gone down in the history of the twentieth century as two of the least successful presidents. Clinton was obviously intelligent, but his greatest asset was his charm, both in front of a crowd and on an interpersonal level. My guess is that the victor in 2008 will be someone like Mark Warner on the Democratic side of the house or George Allen or John McCain on the Republican side. Only McCain and Clinton really have a presence, most of the other hopefuls are more low-key and I believe that likely to resonate well with a public that may shun a strong executive after eight years of Bush

  2. You seem to be saying that America will want a "low-key" president after Bush's my-way-or-else approach, no? I would tend to agree with that. It's one of Bush's negative qualities that just missed the cut as I was paring them down.

    I also agree that some of Bush's speeches have been well written, and that he is much stronger when he has a well written speech to deliver. However, I disagree that the space allotted to him in the history books will be for his speeches!

  3. On the contrary, I believe that should subsequent executives make use of the so-called Bush Doctrine or the War on Terror be mentioned by his successors for more than a decade than I think the characterization, and the speech, may enter the history books as one of the more important speeches of the past fifty years.

    Truth be told, I don't think Bush is entirely blameworthy for his stature. Had 9/11 not happened, he may have been little talked about and become an historical footnote instead of one of the most important (for better or for worse) presidents of the past century. He wasn't terribly popular or terribly unpopular; it betrays the historian in me to engage in a counterfactual but I would imagine he would have been characterized as a knave and thumped by any reasonable opponent in 2004. No president who endured 9/11 was going to be low-key. That said, I think we agree that America might prefer someone low-key. I disagree with Mark Warner politically but I don't dislike him, and as such I would much prefer him to Hillary Clinton who I find personally loathesome. Without attributing blame, this presidency has been polarizing and I think Warner (or Romney or even McCain) could help reinvigorate civil discourse.