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.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Many, many years ago there was a comic strip set in a small western town somewhere around the turn of the century.  I can't remember the strip's title or the character's names.  I do remember there was one character who was sort of different.  He wore a side gun when almost no one else in the strip did.  I suppose he was sort of the gunman, the slightly disreputable guy in a relatively peaceful town.  I remember one Sunday's strip particularly.

Added:  It's wonderful what is available through Google.  The strip's name was Rick O'Shay, and the gunman's name was Hipshot Percussion.  I loved that comic strip, along with others that are no longer around.  IMHO, today's strips aren't nearly as good as some of the old ones, either in their art or the story, with very few exceptions.

In this particular strip, Hipshot was on his horse riding in the hills above the town, the sky was a sunrise red, the mountains and hillsides were in glory, everyone else in in church in the valley below.  He looked around at the vista and said that though he didn't go to church, this was as close to being religious as he could get, appreciating the beauty all around him.

In the very first sentence of this, new blog I said that "Even if I were not a true believer, and I'm pretty sure that I am not in many ways ...".  Today, I'm sitting at the keyboard rather than a pew.  I've read the paper, including the comics which don't seem to speak to me as often as in the past.  I'd rather be sitting here thinking about what to write, what is a believer, politics, and the sun flooding the room through my skylight.

Let me change the subject, just slightly.  Marrianna is on the phone downstairs with John, a very good friend.  He called because he had some news that he just had to share.  His daughter lives in northern California and is expecting his first grandchild in April.  John and his current wife can't afford to go.  This morning he received a phone call telling him that several friends of both he and his daughter had pooled their airline miles and got him and his wife tickets to come to California in April to be at the birth of their first grandchild.  John was almost in tears.

I think that small anecdote of people's goodness and generosity blends nicely with where I hoped to go.  John and I aren't believers in a god restricted by Christianity, Judaism, or other 'ism.  I wouldn't even attempt to say what John believes, and I still struggle to say explicitly what I believe.  It's always easier to say what I do not believe.

Today, however, I am not going to go either way, writing about what I do or do not believe.  John's story is sufficient.  People don't have to be religious to be inspiring.  If I had been in a pew this morning, I'd have missed this "good news".  Having John share it with us is as fine a gift as I can imagine.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beginning Blogging, Again

Even if I were not a true believer, and I'm pretty sure that I am not in many ways, when a sermon stirs the desire to begin blogging again, I think it's a pretty good idea to at least listen to that urge.  For several years, I blogged at "Thinking Through My Fingers" and enjoyed it.  When I stopped, I felt that I'd said all that I had to say, and that if I didn't have anything new, it was time to stop.

The sermon was given on Sunday, January 29th at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel, Hill, NC.  Full disclosure, Bob Dunham is my brother-in-law, or to be more technically correct, my wife's brother-in-law.  He is married to her sister, is a wonderful preacher, excellent community leader, even better person, and I love, respect, and am proud to say that I know the guy.  As I left the service that day, I told Bob that his sermon made it very difficult to just go home and vegetate on the couch.  I knew that it was time to become more involved.  I don't know how you can hear the poem he used, or listen to the last paragraph of the sermon without feeling the need to do something.  I've decided that my most effective way to speak out is to begin blogging again, speaking in the declarative sentences he urged us to use.

At TTMF, I specifically did not want the blog to be a record of an inner angst and discussion of myself.  I still do not want that, though in order to speak with the declarative voice there are, I suspect, going to be times that it will be necessary for me to examine why and what I believe, about any subject.  I hope that I will be able to speak clearly, concisely, and compassionately without ever closing off any other beliefs or thoughts.

I do not claim to have any personal knowledge or experience that inform what I will be writing.  I am 72 years old, have had a very varied life background that I suspect will become more evident over time.  Some of it is available at TTMF.  Who I have been will certainly provide a platform as I approach and write about the times in which we live.  I am liberal politically, but believe that I have enough sense to know that there are multiple perspectives to almost everything.  I hope that my age hasn't hardened my ideas that they cannot be challenged or changed.

I expect that as we proceed thought this, I will be writing about ideas gleaned from a variety of other blogs and from the news of the day.  I will always provide a link.  I am in the process of building this blog, and a list of some of the blogs and news reports I read regularly will be published at the side.  The design is not yet fully formed, but I think it's necessary to begin publishing now.