One of the most maddening parts of my job working for James Smith was the way the SC press went gaga over anything having to do with anyone who might be running for president in 2020.
It was one of several irrelevant things that they often preferred to write about instead of what they should have been writing about. Others included campaign finance, ad strategy, and occasionally really off-the-wall stuff like Brett Kavanaugh or abolishing ICE. What should they have been writing about? Things that would help voters decide whether James or Henry was better qualified to be governor. Period. If you’re not providing that service to the voters, then the First Amendment has no purpose. And there was far too little of it.
(Oh, and don’t go, “Aha! Now that you’re on the other side you see how awful the press is!” Wrong. This kind of stuff had been driving me nuts for at least 30 years. It’s one of the reasons I made the transition from news to editorial back in 1994 — looking for a situation in which I could do journalism that meant something. And my alienation from the way political news is done increased enormously after that transition. Reading the paper every day as an opinion writer was painful. I’d start reading a story wanting to know one thing that would help me — and the readers — decide what to think of that particular news development, and not only would the information be missing, but I’d see no evidence that it had even occurred to the writer to ask the question.)
But maybe I’d better get to the point.
As I said, reporters got really excited about people who were looking at a 2020 run (clicks, baby!). And they’d want to interview us about them, apparently presuming we were excited, too. What do you think of this national celeb who’s coming to help your campaign? Yeah, right. They were coming to help themselves. There was only one 2020 poss about whom we cared — Joe Biden. Joe is a mentor of James’, and we very much looked forward to his coming to help us with a fund-raiser. Which he did, on Oct. 13. It was a big day, a highlight of the campaign for us — not because he might run in 2020, but because he was Joe Biden, and we loved the guy. Having him in our corner said things about us that we actually wanted said.
I’m going to get to the point, I promise…
Here it is…
We live in a country, in a world, in which the about only qualification needed to be a candidate for president (and therefore for any other office), and to be taken seriously by an alarming number of people, is to be presumptuous enough to put yourself out there. Well, that, and the ability to get some people to pay attention to you when you do.
Whom does this describe? Lots of people. To mention a few — Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and the granddaddy of them all, Donald Trump. I could mention other Republicans, but then I’d have to stop and think, and it’s the Democrats who are irritating me the most right now, on account of my recent campaign experience.
Oh, and yes, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Those two will really get a rise out of people, because they’ve been taken seriously by so many people for so long now that their candidacies seem inevitable. And I’ll grant you that Sanders has at least demonstrated one necessary capability, as counterintuitive as the fact is: the ability to get actual people to actually vote for him.
So what are my criteria for taking someone seriously for the nation’s highest office? There are a number of them. Some are intangible, like the ability to inspire or simply being a person well matched to the moment — and some of you will say some of the above fit one of those criteria. But particularly this far out, when we are first deciding whom we might take seriously, the number-one thing I’m looking at is résumé. (Sorry, Doug, but it’s one of those posts.)
What I mean by that is, when I read this person’s bio in Wikipedia or some other bland, relatively impartial source, does it say to me, “Obviously, the next step for this person is to run for POTUS?”
Joe Biden’s does, of course. Over on the GOP side, John Kasich’s looks pretty good, which is one reason why I voted for him in 2016 — if not exactly awesome. (The biggest weakness in Kasich’s bio is lack of experience in foreign policy, which of course is the most important part of a president’s job.”)
Of course, résumé isn’t everything, and it’s possible to have a thin one and still be a pretty good president — JFK and Barack Obama come to mind. But those were extraordinary individuals of great intellect and almost superhuman oratorical skill, and they both fit into the “being a person well matched to the moment” category I mentioned earlier.
And some people with good resumes are simply not politically viable. I’d put Lindsey Graham in that category. On paper, he looks good — legislator, congressman, senator, longtime leader on issues ranging from national security to judicial confirmation, now chairman of Senate Judiciary. But he’d never get elected, and not just because he’s gone off his trolley on Trump.
Once, you generally had to have a great resume to be considered at all. Look at Lyndon “Master of the Senate” Johnson, or Nixon, or George H. W. Bush. Even Reagan, whom I regarded as a lightweight at the time, had been governor of our largest state. Eisenhower, of course, had no electoral experience, but his diplomatic chops holding the Allies together in Europe were pretty awesome, and of course there was that saving-the-world-from-Hitler thing. (Harry Truman was of course an anomaly. His resume was so unimpressive that he shocked everyone with how good a job he did.)
That has changed because of all sorts of things — the decline of parties as entities that certified qualifications and suitability, the rise of uncurated media, celebrity junk culture, other things. Now, if you can generate some buzz on social media, at least some people will take you seriously as potential leader of the Free World. Even if you lack any qualification for the job — in fact, even if everything that is known about you loudly proclaims that almost anyone in the country would be better suited than you. Doubt me on that? Do I have to bring up Trump’s name again?
So anyway, forgive me if I fail to get excited when the next “2020 hopeful” comes to town. Just ask them to drop off their resumes while they’re here, and if those look good, I’ll get back to them and assess them for other qualifying factors.
Sure, dismiss me for being even more presumptuous than the wannabes themselves. But you know what? While it’s far from perfect, I guarantee you that would lead to a better field of candidates than the current non-process for identifying this week’s “it” candidate….