Monday, March 19, 2007

Who Should Be President?

by Bernie Quigley for Fighting Dems – 3/19/07

In educating our children, high school teachers would do well to start in present time and go back: To find time in the river which brought us here to this new world as if to the center of a fantastic world mandala; where all bets are off; where the unimaginable becomes the everyday; where anything can happen. Where all things are suddenly possible in The Land of the Free.

In returning, we might start with the Vietnam period, simultaneously one of the most creative and divisive moment in our national history. But before we get to Malcolm X or Sgt. Peppers, I’d go to Faith of My Fathers, Senator John McCain’s autobiographical story of his incredible journey to hell and back; his telling of his life as a POW in Vietnam after he was shot down over Hanoi. Like George H.W. Bush, who fell to the sea when his TBM Avenger was shot down on the Pacific Front in WW II, McCain tells a tale of honor, character and responsibility.

It is not by accident that most historical periods end with a military figure as President; Washington, Grant; Eisenhower. History goes forward as if out of a wreckage, and it is out of wreckage that we are born again.

We think about McCain today here in New Hampshire as we face a major crisis before the sap flows next and a new set of Presidential primaries begin. It could be the most important election we face in our history as we are at the crossroads of time itself: We enter now a new era; we enter a new century; we enter a new millennium. But quite possibly we enter into wreckage again and great human tragety is just ahead.

Perhaps we are already there and now there will be no turning back. Recently, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has written that the misbegotten invasion of Iraq could open to a 20-year conflagration sending America alone into a maelstrom.

But it is only a side bar to our real problems; the rise of China and the East as economic champions in an economic awakening akin to that which occurred in New England, New York and England in the 1840s, but multiplied by ten; an economic turning which could turn Americans into subsistence farmers and economic colonists virtually overnight. Already, the uber-rich and Jim Webb’s Wall St. Robber Barons are bailing, either to the new high-rise economy of Dubai or to Hong Kong. (Much as they fled New York and New England for the Texas oil fields 80 to 100 years ago.)

Our republic could virtually rise or fall on this upcoming election cycle, yet the discussion to date has been on the entertainment level of Oprah and American Idol. The discussion at best resembles an undergraduate seminar at the on-line free university where everyone gets a passing grade.

Perhaps we have reached the end of the curve. Ralph Waldo Emerson looked to us in time and said he saw us ascending a staircase. Perhaps we are descending the stairs now on the other side.

I hope the Governor of my state, John Lynch, pushes our primary ahead of the others as he threatens to do. Because here in the hills of New Hampshire I can have fair discussion with my neighbors that amounts to something better than Oprah: Where the night is cold, the morning light tends to be clear and bright.

McCain first awakened into the larger world here in New Hampshire. But this year we are asking ourselves difficult questions which the info-entertainment industry will never approach: Does being a POW actually prepare you to be President of the United States? Does being a pilot of an A4 Skyhawk? They are important questions, because it’s the President of the United States.

We are probably the most “post partisan” state in the country. I think far and wide up here in the northern regions we generally consider George H.W. Bush to have been a good President. But not because he was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire in WW II. He was otherwise qualified to be President and did, at least by our general approximation, a fairly workman-like job. Likewise, I think we generally have good feelings about Ronald Reagan as President, but not because he was a movie star. Like Bush the Elder, he was otherwise qualified. He was Governor of California.

But something is happening here. Last week, Fred Thompson, movie star and former Senator from Tennessee informed us that he might run for President. You might have seen him recently in the movies or in Law and Order.

This is maybe – to paraphrase T.S. Eliot – the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a movie star who looks like a President actually running for President, and with a people so easily deceived and the tenacious will to self-governance which made us a free people in the first place worn so thin and threadbare, that we willingly select the mirage rather than the thing in itself.

There is no reason to think that Fred Thompson would not be a good President. Anything is possible in The Land of the Free. But he is not qualified to be President by his resume in the First Tier. Being a Senator does not qualify him to be President in the First Tier.

Being a Senator, like being a Supreme Court justice, should be an end in itself. It is a different task than President, which is indeed a management thing. Senators discuss the different properties of issues and therefore advise the manager, and 20 years of it doesn’t make you a better manager: It makes you a better advisor and Senator.

If someone still felt unfulfilled after a career of Senator, s/he might try Chaired Professor. Both are “introverted” positions and go to rumination and thoughfulneww. President, like district manager of Walmart, CAO of Hathaway Industries or chief of the Pacific Air Force, are “extroverted” positions. They go to management and taking action. They live on different sides of the river.

Until Eisenhower handed the reins over to John F. Kennedy, Senators were not usually considered to be in the First Tier of Presidential Potentials. But most today who are presenting themselves to us to be Presidential material - Dodd, Clinton, Biden, Obama, Edwards, McCain, Thompson and Brownback - are hoping to take the Senatorial route as a short cut to the Presidency.

And the three front-running Democrats have so little time between them as Senators that together, they wouldn’t even reach the venerable level of one Robert C. Byrd. Or even the decent and highly respected level of a Jim Jeffords. Perhaps this is why the discussion of the Iraq invasion was so tragically inadequate in the first place; this is why the waning Congress has been called A Congress of Peeps. John Edwards had barely found the bathrooms when he announced he would run for President.

Each has only entered the Senate as short-cut route to the Presidency. I was astonished a few months back as the current Panic Primary got underway when the most important Democratic Fund raiser here in the North Country of New England who fully supports Senator Clinton, said she should wait a few months to enter to “ . . . get some stuff done” in the Senate first. A Washington Post columnist made the same comment about Senator Obama.

Governor of a teensy, unpopulated state or one reserved for retired people is also a short cut. This does not rate in the First Tier either. There is nothing to suggest that a governor of a small under populated state would not be a good President. But again, it is a management thing. Governor Dean pioneered this in ’04 but he had no desire to actually be President, and was terrified when he got a boost from the web. He wanted to “make a point” I think, and was looking for a job.

Being related to a former President does not qualify you to be President in the First Tier. Being of an ethnicity that has not yet been President does not necessarily prepare you for the Presidency. Being a movie star or a singer or a hockey player does not prepare you at all to be President, but there is nothing to indicate that these people would not be good Presidents.

According to tradition and lore, a First Tier candidate is a Governor of a state with more than 1.5 million people in it. That would be a state like Texas, New York, California or Massachusetts – widely considered to be “initiative” states. Another First Tier qualification is a military commander who has attained the rank of Admiral or General in the three-star area and has distinguished him or herself in the management of a military campaign or in running a vast enterprise like the U. S. Army or NATO. Colin Powell, for example, would be First Tier.

In the current crop of Presidential contenders in both parties, only Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is qualified in the First Tier.

There are others there who are part of the public discussion who are First Tier but are oddly enough not in the race. Wesley Clark, who leads the Democrats in discussion of Iran, Iraq and foreign policy is a First Tier candidate and so is Joe Sestak.

Sestak, the new representative from Pennsylvania and a three-star Admiral, was shining on Meet the Press this past Sunday, speaking in opposition to neocon apparatchik Richard Pearle and right wing nut job Tom DeLay staging a comeback. Sestak, like Clark was heavily supported by The Fighting Dems, Daily Kos and the web community and is representative of the new spirit which rose to Congress out of the '06 race, featuring new people with new ideas like Carol Shea-Porter of NH and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Sestak could well be the ascending leader of this new group. George Joulwan, a retired Army General who served as supreme allied commander of NATO, who spoke recently on Late Edition, is also First Tier. So is Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, Ed Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania, John Lynch, Governor of New Hampshire, Mike Easley, Governor of North Carolina and many others.

The MSM has expressed little interest in these people who constitute today a Best and Bright listing of the Democratic Party.

Lincoln called us to a “standard maxim.” Today in the other stairwell, we seem to be seeking instead a “standard minimum.”

Perhaps it is not too late. There is still a year to go and marketing in the real world doesn’t start until September, its arc rising to Thanksgiving. Maybe First Tier will arise then. Maybe we can draft new people into the race when the crisis is more acutely felt.

I would add another category to Presidential Contenders: Anomalies and Phenomenon. They appear in periods of change, and perhaps we are there now.

That would be people with a few billion bucks like Warren Buffett, Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump. All three have shown interest in a unique party run either as candidate or as support of another individual or a new party.

Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York, has clearly stated that if this Presidential race descends into mischief, and there are indications that it is doing so, he will put up a half billion of his own money to run a third candidate in March of next year. And Buffet has appeared as a primary supporter of Arnold Schwarzenegger agent of “post partisan” politics.

The panic we are seeing in the early race; the millions of dollars sent to candidates whose generation and influence has passed and the press’s obsession with novelty may be a symptom of an end game of partisan politics as we have come to understand it in the post-war period. Perhaps the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have both reached their limits. By any corporate marketing standards, there is opening now for new products. Perhaps what we are seeing is the end of the old parties and the rise of something new. We will find out in 2008.

I would like to see Joe Sestak and/or Wes Clark seriously enter the Presidential Race in ‘08. Their presence in the race may call in more First Tier candidates in both parties, and that is good for the country.

It is the Brute awakened in the Republican Party that has fostered the barbaric initiatives that have shamed our country in recent years at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. But that Brute is appeased by the submissive and silent lambs in the waning Congress – particularly in the Senate: A few of whom have shown themselves to be so astonishingly detached from their actions in enabling the Brute that they intend now to run for President.

Perhaps it is only a man of honor and ability of the caliber of Clark or Sestak who can retrieve us.

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