PRESIDENT WITH A MIRROR
National elections loom. Politics as usual threatens. Our quadrennial season of mutual distortion draws nigh. Rightist pundits rant: “Obama, weird Christian with Islamic leanings and America-bashing wife.” Leftists spit: “McCain, reactionary Bushist at death’s door married to Barbie.” These are dog days of talking heads and bombast.
How should Americans choose a national government? The politically astute answer, Platform. Choose candidates who advocate sensible policies. That sounds good. Yet, normal Americans spare little time sorting budgets, weapon systems, or proposed bureaucracies. We want to hire someone we trust to do that for us. That is the point of elections, is it not? Common citizens exhaust their time working to pay bills, patching up Johnny’s broken arm, and getting mom to cataract surgery. We in life’s trenches need a succinct marker that identifies preferable candidates.
We need leaders with mirrors. We need candidates who inspect themselves and are secure enough to tell us what they see. We need presidents who know themselves well enough to shore up their weak spots, who know what they can and cannot do as individuals. Mencius (Chinese, 4th century B.C.) noted well: “Only when a man will not do some things is he capable of doing great things” (Book IV, part B, §8).
The weakness of Presidents defines presidencies. Recall recent administrations. John Kennedy, the brash philanderer, almost started a nuclear war. Lyndon Johnson’s pride made Vietnam an enduring misery. Richard Nixon’s paranoia convulsed the nation. Gerald Ford’s niceness let him pardon Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter’s unctuous handwringing left Americans captive. Ronald Reagan’s growing dementia threatened constitutional crisis and permitted Iran Contra. The elder George Bush’s caution failed to finish Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton’s womanizing and prevarications gridlocked years. The younger George Bush’s education gaps tolerated a defective war rationale and a passel of poor English.
McCain or Obama? What are Obama’s flaws? Only he can tell us; he holds his mirror. How does McCain fall short? Does he know; does he peer within? We need to know. Our next decade will be defined by the shadows John or Barack see in their respective reflections. John Locke (British, 18th century A.D.) said, “It is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean. It is well he knows that it is long enough to reach the bottom, at such places as are necessary to direct his voyage, and caution him against running upon shoals that may ruin him. Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct.” (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, §1.1.6).
Keep us off the shoals. Make the man who knows his limitations president.