Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Is A President?

We are going to elect a President in a couple weeks and it might be a good idea to know what it is we're trying to get. This is actually a meaningful question, so let's figure out some of what we're not trying to get. We're not trying to get the smartest guy in the country, in the case of Barack Obama we'd get a real smart fellow, but there are a lot people smarter yet in that pool. We're not going for a military expert; we've had Generals as Presidents and some were better than average and some didn't make average. Being a hero has worked out but most were not that. Much has been made of the Commander In Chief role as though the President would be leading a charge or writing battlefield plans.

The title is Chief Executive, not engineer, not accountant, not General - Chief Executive. This is, after all, a nation of 300 some million people with a huge geographic area, not to mention sociological differences across it. This is not something the President micro-manages. The Chief Executive presides over a team of major executives who in turn manage other executives. There is no other model on earth for this organization, it dwarfs all others in size and complexity and multiplicities of missions. In recent history we've had the opportunity so see - courtesy of leaks in secrecy - how badly this can be done in practice. The distance of time involved in history and its partisan rendering makes it impossible to actually know if this current Administration is the worst or not, the fact of asking that question is frightening.

There is a test for this position of Presidency. It may be the toughest test short of holding the office and it is called running for it. A candidate almost assures himself of a loss if he stands up in front of a crowd and starts running out the minutiae of policies. The voters need to have a fairly good idea of where a candidate wants to go and most importantly in that respect - why. But this is not the test, that is speech writing and oratory. It is the system put together to win the show that is the test. Running the USA makes putting a campaign together look like child's play, but it is the most public and publicly tested operation available. That is your measure, in the end.

This Presidential election, as in most, we have two real campaigns and the contrast almost could not be more definite. If the McCain campaign has a strategy, they're not letting anyone in on the secret including themselves. The fact that John McCain can still sort of walk after all whipsawing is astonishing. They play to the news cycle but they are never ahead or even with it, they are always behind and that makes everything the do look contrived. They set out in directions with an obvious outcome and are surprised when it happens and promptly fling blame in every direction. One begins to wonder if anyone is at the wheel of the Straight Talk Bus.

In contrast there is the campaign that started out against the "Inevitable Candidate" and won, and not leads in the General. The campaign just does not seem to make mistakes and quickly and efficiently addresses the ones out of its control. The candidate maintains a cool that is almost detached and stays on point, regardless of outside pressures and is almost always right. There are too many superlatives available and it is in the end, just piling on to run through them.

The latest Washington Post poll shows Americans giving Barack Obama the edge on which candidate would they most trust with an undefined serious emergency. This was McCain's ground, jealously staked out, now yanked away. The campaigns have been on display for over a year now and people are taking their measure.

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