Thursday, February 16, 2012

Required Traits of Our President

I don't often think about what " We the people" require of those who we elect to be President.  Earlier this week, though, I was reading Ta Nehesi Coates' blog, as I do almost every day, and he referenced an article by James Fallows in the March issue of The Atlantic, "Obama Explained."  I read the entire article, printed it and re-read it.  It's long, 22 printed pages, and very interesting.  The entire article is well worth reading for its in-depth discussion of President Obama's first three years.  I am still digesting that.  For this post, however, I'm primarily interested in what we require of our president.

The traits Fallows lists that are required of a President were impressive.
Presidents fail because not to fail would require, in the age of modern communications and global responsibilities, a range of native talents and learned skills no real person has ever possessed. These include “smarts” in the normal sense—the analytical ability to cope with the stream of short- and long-term decisions that come at a president nonstop. (How serious is the latest provocation out of North Korea? What are the “out year” budget implications of a change in Medicaid repayment formulas?) A president needs rhetorical clarity and eloquence, so that he can explain to publics at home and around the world the intent behind his actions and—at least as important—so that everyone inside the administration understands his priorities clearly enough that he does not have to wade into every little policy fight to enforce his preferences.
A president needs empathy and emotional intelligence, so that he can prevail in political dealings with his own party and the opposition in Washington, and in face-to-face negotiations with foreign leaders, who otherwise will go away saying that this president is “weak” and that the country’s leadership role is suspect. He needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present; visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant, and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 a.m.—yet also able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.

Ideally he would be self-aware enough that, in the center of a system that treats him as emperor-god, he could still recognize his own defects and try to offset them.
 That is an impressive list and one Fallows says no real person has ever possessed.  I think he has a good description, but I'm not sure it's one no real person has ever possessed.  In fact, it is likely that the person who would desire to be President pretty much automatically disqualifies him (or her), especially "his own defects and try to offset them."  That last phrase would probably trip every one of them.  There are, I believe, people who have every one of these traits, and also have the wisdom and self knowledge to know that the job of President is not a place for them.  In other words, the desire to be President, in and of itself shows that the person is too ego-centric to fulfill that last qualification.

That said, for me President Obama has more of the desired traits and qualifications than any President I can recall.  I think probably in the modern days of the Presidency, Truman was as close as anyone to having all the traits, but then I was only six when he was thrust onto the Presidency.

Anyway, it is interesting to think of what we require of a president and then how quickly we lose faith and confidence when he doesn't exhibit every one of our requirements.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree with your final paragraph summary.

    The corollary is that electorates actively select in favour of those who promise more than they can deliver, rejecting those who are honest about what can be achieved.

    I also agree with you about the desire for office being a counterindicator of suitability for it. Which supports my idea (which we've discussed before) that politicians should be chosen from the whole population by lottery... [grin]

    The Fallows article was well worth reading – thanks, also, for that!