Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We need a President that ...

People love to talk about what we need in a President.  Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes they are right but irrelevant.

What do I mean by right but irrelevant?  I mean they are referencing a quality that everyone has - often in an attempt to insult their opponent.  "We need a president that ....wears clothing/breathes/talks English."

Lets discuss some of the qualities and which are right, wrong, and irrelevant.  I am going to start with the irrelevant ones, because frankly, they are the most interesting.

  • Strong Willed
  • Good Leader 
  • Makes the Right Decisions
  • Willing to Take Risks

These skills are necessary but irrelevant for one major reason - you can't win a Primary unless you already have all of them.   For at least the last century, the US Presidency has been so valuable a prize, that the best men of a large, successful country (and not enough women, go Hillary!) have fought over it toe to toe.   No matter what the other party says, a weak person can not win a national primary - it's too nasty a gauntlet.   Whether it's your competition claiming you aren't an American citizen, claiming you had a black child out of wedlock, or calling up voters past midnight and pretending to work for your opponent, the US Presidency is not for the weak.

Similarly, making it past the Primaries, requires that you be a good leader, make the right decisions and willing to take risks.   All of these qualities are more than tested long before you make it to the General Election.  Yes one candidate may be slightly stronger than the other, but in the most extreme example, we are talking the difference between an 9 and 10, which isn't worth mentioning.

But people love to claim they have these qualities, implying their opponent doesn't.  It's easy to claim a winning move took no courage, was not their idea, was an obvious decision, and not a high risk.  Similarly, it's easy to claim a losing move was done out fear, after being pushed, a wrong decision, and was clearly far too risky.   Then they claim that they wouldn't do such a thing - or they claim they never would have been put into that position in the first place.  This is all bravado and lies.   All serious Presidential Candidates have been strong people, good leaders, made good decisions, and were willing to take risks.

Next are the qualities people think you need, but are not important for a President.

  • Religious/Good Christian/Morale/"Character"
  • Honest/Trustworthy
  • Charismatic  (more than the top 10%)
  • Intelligence (smarter than the top 10%)
All of these categories are not necessary to being President.  This is not a 'christian country', it is a country that goes out of it's way to ensure religious freedom.   The President has to abide by a set of rules that normal humans do not.  They are routinely placed in a situation where they have to order people to their death - both their own citizens and enemies of the state.   I am not saying that morality or religion is a bad thing (they are some people's best qualities) - just that they are not necessary to be a good President.   He can cheat on his wife (Clinton, JFK), flash his dick to everyone (Johnson), win an election using dirty tricks (Nixon, JFK, Bush), and make deals with terrorists (Reagan).   Being Morale/Good Christian is not necessary to be a good President.

Similarly, superior honesty is not necessary.  The Presidency requires that we keep secrets and lie to other governments.  Hopefully they won't lie to the American people but often you can't lie to your enemy without at least misinforming your own people.   Past Presidents have lied to our enemies and it helped the country - that's pretty much the definition of a 'covert' operation.   Part of being good at keeping secrets is being a good liar.

Charismatic and intelligence are also not needed because we can hire people to that part of the job - as long as you are not totally obnoxious or an idiot.  A good speech writer and good advisers can take care of those parts of the job.

Religious/morale, Honest, Charismatic, Intelligent  - these are all good qualities, that people like, so they pretend they are necessary for the job.  But they don't substantially help a person be a better president.

That brings us to the qualities a good President needs, but aren't guaranteed by the process.   Failing to have these make you far less effective as a President, and you can win the Primary without them.

  • Consensus builder.
  • Finger on the Pulse
  • Good Judge of Character
  • Flexibility

Consensus Builder - as Obama demonstrated, and Trump is proving again, you do not have to be good at building a real consensus to get elected.  You can simply be better than the alternatives.  The problem is this limits your effectiveness tremendously.   Aside from one major piece of legislation - Obamacare - we didn't as much out of Obama as some hoped.  He was a good President, but not and  FDR, nor a Reagan.   Trump would be even worse.  He can't  get his own party' support, let alone the Democrats, who are most likely to rule the Senate (and the Supreme Court).   But to be an effective leader, you need more than just the White House, you need to convince at least some of your political opponents to support your bills.  Hillary is a lot better than Donald Trump when it comes to Consensus Building, she has won back the Black vote after losing it to Obama. 

Also Consensus building is NOT negotiating.  Ambassadors and Secretaries of State negotiate.   Presidents do not negotiate.   Negotiating means you strive for the best possible deal at all costs.    Consensus means you give up the best possible deal in order to keep everyone friendly.  You negotiate with your enemies, competitor, and clients.  You build a consensus with you wife and Congress.

Finger on the Pulse of the Nation is a strange one.   In truth, you do need it beat the Primary, but from the time you win the primary, the process does it's best to rip your hand off the pulse.  You get surrounded by advisers, spin doctors, security, cut off from the people.  It is extremely hard to maintain the sense of what 'regular' people are doing.  Without it, you come up with horrible ideas that everyone hates and don't understand why they hate them.   The ability to stay in touch with the common man is tough.  Let's be honest here, neither Hillary or the Donald have any idea how normal people live.  Trump says he does, but then he thinks he will win the Mexican and Women vote.  Honestly, he understands how a certain subset of the US (disaffected male non-hispanic white voters) work, but is clueless about the rest.  Lies - even self delusions - don't help you out here.

Good Judge of Character: the ability to pick the right people for the right job is key.  If you are smart enough and charismatic enough, then you don't need this skill to win the Primary.  But being President takes more work than winning the Primary - no one can do it alone.   You need to be able to pick the right people who will do their jobs well.    Again, neither Hillary nor Trump has a good record.  Trump has many bad calls when it comes to failed businesses, and Hillary has issues with the people she trusted for email security and for state security in Libya.

Which brings me to Flexibility.  You need to be willing to admit when you were wrong and change your opinion.  Why?  Because no one is right all the time.  If you were right all the time, that means you were unwilling to take risks.  If you don't take risks, you can never be wrong - but you will always be behind the times, leading from the rear.  It means not pushing for Gay Rights, not telling Gorbachev to "Take Down This Wall."  because you are afraid of being wrong.  The only way to take risks is to accept that occasionally you will be wrong.  Trump is good about walking mistakes back, but refuses to admit that what he originally said was wrong.  He lies about it - and that pisses off his opponents who know he is lying.   Hillary on the other hand, is more willing to admit she was wrong (despite being wrong less often than Trump).  She has admitted mistakes graciously.

Note, most of the other Republican candidates failed because they never had their Finger on ANYONE'S Pulse.  Trump at least knew what white males were thinking.  If Bernie Sanders had been more  Flexible and a better Consensus Builder, he would have been a better nominee.  If Trump could figure out what gay, black, Mexican women really want (and be willing to support it), or if Sanders found a way to walk back some of the socialism and compromise with conservatives, they would be far better candidates.

Right now, Hillary is the best we have.   She is good  at Consensus and is Flexible when it comes to the tough choices.   She needs to get better at judging other people's character and find some way to regain a sense of what other people want.

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