Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Most Underestimated Qualification For President

Presidential candidates usually like to advertise their qualifications
for the Oval Office with the obvious intent of assuring voters that they
can handle the extraordinary challenges and pressures of being the nation's
and, in effect, the Free World's chief figure.

There are exceptions to this, most notably the 2008 Barack Obama campaign
for president in which the candidate understandably focused on rhetoric and
promises for the future. Mr. Obama had briefly been a state legislator, and
had not yet finished half of his first term as U.S. senator. In fact, the 2008
Obama campaign was the inverse of the rule. His grades in college were kept
out of sight, his records as a legislator were somehow destroyed, his activities
at Harvard (as a recently-released video confirms) were "hidden," and his
life and associations in Chicago were down-played. Most of the Old Media,
eager to elect a Democrat to replace George W. Bush, became complicit in
this inversion of public vetting. On the other hand, Mr. Obama's chief rival
for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, had been excruciatingly vetted as First
Lady for two terms of her husband's presidency, and during her later tenure
as U.S. senator from New York. A form of "suspension of the rules" thus
took place, and the least-prepared person to become president of the
United States went on to election in November.

But Mr. Obama was perceived to have one prerequisite, albeit an invisible one,
for the presidency. He was seen to have the TEMPERAMENT for office. Much
of this was perceived by his speaking style, and his apparent coolness under
pressure. His opponent, John McCain, also had the temperament for the job,
but his inadequate response (perhaps no adequate response was possible)
to the late-breaking mortgage banking crisis doomed his chances (he had
been winning the race just before the crisis occurred).

In 2012, looking at the various Republican candidates for president, the
question of temperament looms, in my opinion, quite large. Although
Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain (and even Donald Trump)
enjoyed brief poll popularity "bubbles," none of them demonstrated the
kind of temperament that would make their surges last. Tim Pawlenty, who
many thought did have some temperament, withdrew from the race very
early, an irrevocable demonstration that he did not have it.

This leaves us with the remaining "serious" GOP hopefuls, Mitt Romney,
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. But before examining their claims to
presidential temperament, let me discuss the phenomenon itself.

Temperament is the most subjective of presidential qualifications. Franklin
Roosevelt was once described as a man of "second-rate intellect," but a
"first-rate temperament." Temperament is an essential quality of personality,
and not seemingly directly related to intelligence or reasoning skills. It is
more about self-confidence, communication skills, persistence and the
ability to remain calm and organized under pressure. It is the ability to
assume command. Self-deprecation, humor and originality are often
associated with it. In relation to the presidency, I suspect that the elements
of self-confidence, command and persistence are the most powerful.

In the most significant innovation of the early 2012 campaign, the televised
debates between the many GOP contenders, the greatest success was
achieved by Newt Gingrich whose well-informed and self-assured responses
made him stand out from most of his rivals. But Gingrich's temperament in
the debates was often not replicated on the campaign trail where his
statements often revealed insecurities that were first noticeable during his
tenure as speaker of the U.S house (1995-98). These insecurities showed
Gingrich to be hermetic (his criticism of Paul Ryan early in the campaign)
and mercurial (his statements of overconfidence after South Carolina).
While he showed savvy maturity in his handling of the marital controversies
brought up against him, his angry animosity to Mitt Romney (after Romney's
SuperPac attacked him so relentlessly in Iowa) has continued to diminish
public perception of his self-confidence.

Rick Santorum showed himself in the debates to be someone feeling himself
perpetually undervalued, and his style of complaining and whining kept him
from being highly regarded. But Mr. Santorum showed hard work and
persistence, and he eventually had his moment in the political sun. Having
achieved that, he has shown himself as a skillful opportunist, but revealed
little presidential temperament. His continued standing in the primaries is
more about his ideological conservative views than his performance on the
campaign trail.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney. I don't think he would be be generally
described as a "first-rate" intellect, but throughout the campaign so far,
including the debates, he has demonstrated qualities of temperament, that
have maintained him through the periodic challenges from each of his
opponents, and which brings him to the verge of his party's nomination.
Of course, he does not seem to have the communication skills that his
supporters might wish he had (and which Mr. Roosevelt, as well as Ronald
Reagan and Bill Clinton had). If he does win the nomination, Mr. Romney
will need to work on those skills. His November opponent, Mr. Obama, has
already demonstrated his ability to communicate.

The November election, I continue to suggest, will turn on the American
voters judgment on Mr. Obama's first term. There will be considerable
discussion of that first term in the weeks and months ahead.

As for Mr Romney (or Mr. Gingrich, for that matter), presidents are rarely
truly great before they take office. The character of their conduct in office,
as well as the nature of the times, determines great or even outstanding
presidents. The presidency of Abraham Lincoln established this rule.
Only the first president, George Washington, entered office as a truly
great man.

Perhaps we do not need a "great " man as our next president, but
considering "the trouble we've seen," we do need someone who can
lead us very ably through the unimaginable difficulties which lie ahead.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All right reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Barry, with respect to Mitt Romney's intellect, I would note that at Harvard he graduated with honors from the Law School and as a Baker Scholar (top 5%) from the business school. However, as a graduate from a state school in the Midwest, I would also conceed that those honors from that school may not indicate that your statement wrong :).