I watched the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday Night. The Keynoter was Ron Chernow who has won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His biography of Alexander Hamilton inspired a musical that revolutionized Broadway. He was serious, witty, and intelligent. In other words, he was everything that Donald Trump is incapable of being.
While watching, I thought of the field of Democratic Presidential Candidate Hopefuls, and it occurred to me that my choice is going to come down to two factors:
- How “Presidential” is each hopeful likely to be? What characteristics do they possess that makes them a proper fit for the White House.
- How able will the hopeful be in defeating the current, and completely unworthy, holder of the Oval Office.
I am a student of the American Presidency. I taught courses on it as a university professor for for 34 years. Among my favorite scholars are Brinkely, Kearns. Meacham, Dallek, and Schlesinger.
SO……who am I looking for to raise their right hand and say these words: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
History suggest that five qualities have been constants of those who have most effectively fulfilled the oath of office.
First, every successful president has been a person of intelligence, vision, insight, and understanding with a strong work ethic and a commitment to learning more every day. As a result of this the best holders of the office had a clear idea of where they wished to lead the nation in its quest for a better future. A clear and comprehensible grand design has been central to every significant presidential advance.
Second, the most successful of our chiefs have also been great realists or pragmatists — politicians who understood that politics was the art of the possible or that the road to proficient leadership was through a sensible opportunism or flexible response to changing conditions at home and abroad. Accompanying this is the necessity that the President KNOW the government…how it is supposed to work and how it actually does. They must be students of history, of politics, of social development and the economy.
Third, presidential gains have depended on the consent of the governed: presidents without a national consensus for major policies touching people’s everyday lives are politicians courting defeat. Presidents who cannot build a consensus and play to “their constituents” tend to be remembered as divisive rather than unifying.
Fourth, the best of our presidents have always recognized that leadership required a personal connection between the president and the people, or that the power of the Oval Office rests to a great degree on the affection of the country for its chief. From Washington to Lincoln to the two Roosevelts and, most recently, Reagan, and Obama the force of presidential personality has been a major factor in determining a president’s fate. Again, for that appeal to work it is necessary that the connection be across the board and represent a connection to the diverse demographics of the nation.
And fifth, a corollary to conditions three and four, presidents need credibility — presidents who are unable to earn the trust of their countrymen are governors who cannot govern and lead.
NOW WHO IN THE FIELD OF HOPEFULS SEEMS TO HAVE THE SEEDS OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS IN THEIR NATURES, IN THEIR PRESENTATIONS AND IN THEIR HISTORIES?
Here is a list from presidential scholars assembled by the Wall Street Journal if you want to see who they regard as faithful to lists like the one above