© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
If we were honest with ourselves, we’d admit that there is something about political candidates which we dislike long before they are ever elected. I first developed a sense of this during the late 1970s, when I became excited about a particular candidate running for the U.S. Senate. I was a fresh, idealistic youth, excited about what this candidate could do for America.
I attended a reception in the lobby of a beautiful, historic office building downtown with high ceilings, filled with campaign supporters and the press. When I finally managed to get a close up view of the candidate who I planned to support, I noted a certain detachment in his eyes, taking on an almost Zombie- type quality. I watched him as he navigated the room, smiling, shaking hands.
I still did not connect with him on a personal level, because he just didn’t seem real. I also noticed the entourage, consisting of enthusiastic “grinners.”
I chalked up that initial experience to a lack of charisma on the part of that particular candidate. A couple of years later, I got excited about a gubernatorial candidate. This time around, the candidate was even more Zombie-like than the first. Of course, once again, there was an adequate supply of grinners. Although still idealistic, I decided that participation in political campaigns was not for me.
Some years later, the husband of one of my best friends in school decided to run for state office. Since I really admired this guy, and knew his views prior to his decision to run for office, I enthusiastically supported his candidacy. He was successful, and fortunately, he never changed. I always felt that he looked at me, and others, straight in the eye, and not past us looking for the next hand to shake. I viewed him as a real person. It probably helped that I knew him before, during, and after his political life.
Interestingly, after a subsequent unsuccessful bid for higher office, I asked him how he liked being out of politics. After letting out a big sigh, he said that he loved it. My sense was that there was nothing he hated more than being a politician. He obviously had a passion about serving his constituency, but the politician hat never quite fit him. I got the impression that it was a contorted existence, full of twisting and turning – almost unnatural in a sense. I then realized - that we have created an unattainable standard, with unreasonable expectations, or perhaps inappropriate expectations.
I have always felt, from a theoretical perspective, that serving one’s country, or serving the needs of others, was the highest form of societal contribution that one could make. Consequently, when I began to get this sense that being a politician was not a particularly good thing, it began to bother me.
I doubt that I ever actually looked up the word “political,” until roughly ten minutes ago. However, it always seemed to me that “being political” meant saying whatever one needed to say, that would offend the fewest people, and result in the least amount of noticeable criticism. (That’s coming from someone who does not consider himself cynical.) That’s not only bad from a public relations perspective, but it also creates a mood of alienation amongst our voters. Cynicism about politics is not a good thing. It makes one not care.
I have often joked with my friends that the primary reason that I have never been married is because I have no political skills. Knowing that, I made a decision never to get married. I’ve concluded that I’m not qualified for marriage.
In a similar vein, maybe we should come to the realization that the standard that we have artificially created for our candidates does not really make them qualified as functional leaders, although they might be, at least superficially, good moral leaders. (I’d be just fine with delegating all of the morality talk to the religious professionals - our ministers, priests, and rabbis.)
Maybe candidates can not really connect with us since they fear that we might see them for who they really are – less than perfect people. (They may know it, but their handlers may not want us to see it.) Perhaps they’ve got to hit you with something superficially positive, and move on before you figure out the real deal. Additionally, we all recognize that it is a numbers game.
For many years, we have spoken about election decisions involving choosing the lesser of evils. We often assume that they are all egomaniacs. We also frequently assume that they are all on the take. We even suggest that the system is at fault, and that lobbyists and big corporations ultimately corrupt even the most capable of politicians.
I would suggest something different. They’re not like us; but we, as a country, have put ourselves in a box. (Maybe they really are like us, but we do not allow them to express that quality, since we would immediately attack them as having character flaws.) Let’s take our recent primary experience.
Admittedly, the leader of the free world, or any country for that matter, should be held to a higher standard of conduct and prior achievement. However, this notion of a saint with a perfect success rating, who has never made a mistake, who has never associated with someone who made a mistake, and who has never misspoke about a sensitive subject, and who has never had a business failure, has effectively eliminated all of the people who could really do an effective job.
Every individual citizen’s concept of morality and success becomes a nebulous and amorphous standard, and when compounded, becomes a virtually unattainable one.
Quite frankly, I have often joked that I would like to see a straight-talking candidate, who admitted that he was a philander, a former drug-addict, a former homeless person, a former bankrupt who failed at business, and who had many prior indiscretions, take a stab at the presidency.
That candidate would probably have better skills, and have a better appreciation of the issues affecting the majority of the citizens in our society. (All the perfect, successful people out there, with ideal families really don’t need a leader. Their lives are ideal. They are just afraid of those with non-ideal lives creeping over into their neighborhoods.)
We need a leader to address problems and improve conditions. To address problems, one needs to understand the underlying causes of problems. To address problems, a nation (meaning its citizenry) also needs to accept responsibility for its structural and systemic contribution to the problem.
On the contrary, what we have today is the constant blame game, “The other guy or other party did it. They’re the reason that we are in this condition today.” I don’t know about you; however, I’ve never found that criticizing the conduct of others solved crap. Come up with a suggestion of something different that might work.
There’s another problem with our candidates unrelated to the moral box. Most folks running for our highest office do not have a clue as to who you are. They may have at one point at time, prior to embarking on their road to success. However, you don’t enter the arena of presidential pretenders being an ordinary Joe, nor do you enter that arena with many setbacks under your belt. They’ve fought long and hard. They are generally successful financially and professionally, and they are focused.
They are not your average American with average issues, hopes, and desires. There’s a disconnect. There is thus, also, a class box. (Tangentially, I should note that the political commentators and consultants, on all of the shows dealing with politics, aren’t ordinary Janes or Joes either. Talk about a disconnect from the American public. I just love it when they say, “What the American people want….”
I hope that you do not view me as an apologist for some notion of immoral behavior, or prior personal setbacks. That’s not the argument that I am making. I’m just saying that we have created an unachievable standard. I doubt that anyone is truly “qualified” to be president.
I’m no academic historian; however, my sense is that some of the greatest leaders of this country were not saints, and they were not always successful in every aspect of life. They were not professional speakers and hand shakers. They didn’t always speak in politically correct terms. My suspicion is that all things considered, they had more positive about them than negative.
In a nation where we judge our potential leaders by a superficial, illusive, personal standard which most of us can not attain ourselves, how do we expect to find someone to address the real issues affecting our society, and on which probably most of us can agree. As Wag the Dog showed us, it is too much about “the show.”
Personally, I like doers, not avoiders. I like risk takers, not risk avoiders. I like straight talkers, not talkers about high moral values, when in fact they are just like the rest of us, human, and subject to mistakes and foibles.
Hypocrites, please move aside. And for God’s sake, find me a candidate who will occasionally say, “My fellow Americans, I apologize, but I made a mistake.” Aren’t we capable of accepting apologies in this society, or have we made it too difficult to apologize, resulting in a bunch of deniers? Folks generally know when they messed up.
The continual condemnation, requiring the hypocritical, self-serving painting or characterization of political candidates, does not really advance any societal interests, just short-term, personal ones. It also contributes to the perpetuation of false images on the part of our candidates. (I still have not decided whether it is a good quality in a candidate to be able to ignore or deflect public criticism, and persevere when they believe that they are doing the “right thing.” I used to think that was a good quality, and that thinking in terms of the long term was generally the way to go. Our current president has made me re-evaluate that factor.)
Let’s see if we get beyond this beauty and morality contest. How about a switch to someone who can simply get things done, even if he or she does not fit within the politically correct box in which we currently find ourselves confined? How about a switch to someone whose primary goal is not to get elected? Our denial, or failure to admit that we are not a perfect, successful, moral society, might be our downfall.
By fighting our way out of this restrictive, but amorphous box in which we find ourselves, we might actually get more accomplished as a nation. We can not continue to allow outside forces, and the current world environment, dictate the fate of America, while we sweat the “small stuff.”
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Post No. 5: The Triangular Box in Which America Finds Itself Circumscribed (Why We Really Don’t Like Any of the Political Candidates)
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