You can count yourself lucky. A couple of weeks ago, for this space, I wrote a long screed called "It's Really Hard Being a Democrat," in which I outlined (and waxed sarcastic about) many of the absurdities of the Democratic Party. But, somehow, I closed the window without saving what I'd written. So you were spared the chore of either reading it or having to decide not to.
It is hard being a Democrat, though. The Republican Party (current iteration, at least) is evil, but the Democrats are idiots. I'm more against evil than I am against idiocy, so for the time being I'm a Democratic supporter. I'm feeling a tiny bit better about being a Democratic supporter now that Hillary Clinton and her white-haired, red-faced Sancho Panza have stopped hacking away at the foundation of their own windmill, but there's still a lot about that Party to roll one's eyes about.
As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says, Republicans are 95% corrupt, but Democrats are 75% corrupt. (America has a big corruption problem these days.)
No, we don't
But that's not what I want to rant about today. Today my topic is a truly harebrained idea that gets repeated uncritically in the political press until it makes me wanna holler.
It's that we need "leadership."
And "experience." And candidates who are "qualified."
Oh, really? No, we don't. We don't need "leadership." Leadership by itself is nothing to desire. What's important is where they want to lead us, not just that they can lead. Think about this for ten seconds: who was the most gifted leader of the 20th century? It had to be Adolf Hitler. He was the ultimate leader. Very inspiring guy, from all accounts. There was a guy who had "leadership ability." They even called him der Führer, which is German for "the Leader."
Was that a good thing? No. Turned out, not.
Churchill was a great leader too, but you'll notice the British only called on him when they were in a tight fix and they needed a tough guy, and then just as soon as the war was done with, they booted him right out. But that he was the right leader for them during the war years is not something very many people would dispute. He fit the situation. He was right for the times.
And you never really know where great leadership is going to come from. John F. Kennedy showed all the signs of being a gifted leader as President (insofar as he got a chance to demonstrate those qualities), but he was a relatively lousy Congressman. He was just cut out to be top dog, not a mid-level guy. His little brother, turned out, was the opposite—not much of a leader, but big on service to his country and his constituencies.
I'd rather have a so-so leader moving us in the right direction than a gifted leader who wants us to goose-step in unison. Positive leadership can be a good thing—unless you happen to be a lemming.
Leadership is just a quality. What's needed is not leadership per se, but leadership in the right direction and suited to the circumstances.
Same thing with "qualifications." Perhaps the most well-qualified Presidential candidate of recent times (well, among those who won) was George H. W. Bush. The guy had a resumé as long as your arm. He also turned out to be quite possibly the lamest President since Warren Harding, and not even as popular—lamer, even, than Jimmy Carter (our most Christian President, another useless qualification).
In 1968, a guy named Laurence J. Peters formulated an idea called "The Peter Principle." To quote Wikipedia, "The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent, and there they remain." Unless, of course, they have to be re-hired for the same position all over again four years later. In which case, it's back to Kennebunkport.
And "experienced"? Please. What's the proper experience for a prospective President? The ability to speak Evangelical code and having picked up dirty campaigning tricks from Lee Atwater? Arguably the least experienced Presidential candidate of the 20th century—again, among those who won—was George W. Bush. All he'd done prior to being elected was to be his father's fortunate son and to serve as Governor of Texas. Non-Americans don't realize this—well, I'm sure a lot of Americans don't either, if "Jaywalking" is any indication—but governorships vary wildly in significance and importance from state to state. In Texas, the governor's duties are mainly ceremonial. The governor is largely a figurehead, with little actual power. It's nothing like the same office in, say, California. The Governor of Texas manages fewer employees than does the mayor of any medium-sized American city. The Governor of Texas doesn't even have that much to do. Pretty much any Public School Superintendent in America quickly acquires more experience in management, and has to deal with more of the everyday entanglements of politics, than a Texas governor does. If America wanted experience, Robert Byrd would be running against Ted Stevens. Governors of Texas would be non-starters.
And the least experienced successful candidate of the 19th century? I'm not on firm ground here—I'm not a historian—but I'd argue it was a gangly guy in a denim suit from Illinois whose hagiography cast him as a rail-splitter. He was a compromise candidate, because his party's leading candidates—men with far more experience, n.b., William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase—split their supporters between them. (They were also considered less moderate than Lincoln on the question of slavery.) Lincoln certainly had less experience than his predecessor, James Buchanan, who is now Dubya's main competitor (along with Nixon, Grant, Andrew Johnson, and Harding) for the title of Worst American President Ever. (Some of my friends argue with me vehemently about this, but until Bush does nothing to stop a war that kills or maims a whole generation, Buchanan has him beat. There were single days in the Civil War when several times as many American kids were killed as have died in Iraq. Buchanan had a mess as bad as Iraq going on, and he also basically did nothing about it—but his was in Kansas. It was like having tea at one end of the house while the other end is on fire. And he handed the new guy a full-blown crisis-in-progress on his first day on the job, in the Fort Sumter situation. Nice work, James.)
The not-so-funny thing about George W. Bush is, of course, that after seven years in office he's still barely any more experienced than he was when he started out. The reason is simple: he doesn't learn. He's experienced, all right, but it hasn't done him—or, more importantly, us—a lick of good.
"Experience" has the same problem "leadership" has. Meaningful experience, and the ability to learn from experience, is better than just having had some.
I'd say benevolence is more important than "leadership"; competence, effectiveness, and imagination more important than qualifications; and being suited to the times as well as being flexible enough to adapt to circumstances more important than past experience.
For all these reasons, I'm supporting Barack Obama for President.
Does that mean he's going to be a good one? I have no idea, unfortunately. You have no idea either, no matter what you say—don't bother trying to convince me otherwise. Obama might turn out to be a great President or a bland one. McCain might be a good President too, or he might be a disaster. You can't really tell in advance. Where Presidents are concerned, we each pretty much have no choice but to make the best guess we can, and then hope it works out well. For all our sakes.
P.S. In the comments, please be civil. Remember that I'm just one citizen from a barely-blue state in the flyover region. I have absolutely no political clout or influence beyond my own single little vote. P.P.S. If I don't publish your comment, re-write it nicer and re-submit it. Remember the Writer's Rule: You can say anything you want; you just have to phrase it right.