The Key Question

When candidates for President are asked why they should be elected to that office, the answers tend to be of two kinds. They assert that they are the best qualified candidate, and they claim that they are the most likely to win the election. Neither answer gets to the root of the question. Exactly why do you want to sit in the Oval Office?

Often the truth is that they simply aspire to the ultimate political position. It is a goal in and of itself, like a baseball manager wanting to win the world series. But which club owner or baseball fan would want their club managed by someone who simply wants to win? We all want to win, in one way or another, but few accomplish great things merely by wanting them.

32_34_arts_redfordstills02_zMany candidates do wish to see their political principles realized and believe that this is best accomplished from the seat at the top. This may be true but it is at best a necessary but not a sufficient condition for change to be realized. There is a pertinent situation portrayed by Robert Redford in the 1972 film The Candidate. He plays a novice candidate for Senator drafted for such a hopeless race that he is free to speak his mind on the stump, and he does so with abandon and little concern for practicality. His message grows more generic and pointless with each passing day. Unexpectedly he wins. He ditches the victory party, pulls aside his political mentor and quietly asks, truly puzzled, “Marvin, what do we do now?”

To be fair, some of the candidates do have specific proposals and outcomes they wish to achieve. But rarely are these filtered though the fine mesh of reality. Presidents have to live with the economic circumstances that they inherit, and they have to work with an actual Congress rather than a pliant or ideal one. Bold ideas for resolution of tough international situations are rarely feasible when real constraints are considered, nor indeed are they anywhere near as attractive as they seemed before cheering supporters. No Board of Directors would hire a CEO who didn’t have practical and realizable plans for their company’s future. Neither should we pick a President in any other way.