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How to Pick a President

The reasons for the electoral triumphs of Barack Obama are ancient history by now. A country exhausted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, presented with a superannuated and uninspiring Republican candidate, infected by white liberal guilt, and subjected to a nonstop media blitz damning and ridiculing everything the previous administration had done while hyping Obama to the heavens and suppressing every unsavory facet of his biography -- this was a country ripe for change.  And, presumably, hope.

But the wave of euphoria that swept the nation when Obama appeared on the scene is a more complex phenomenon. It was a species of enchantment, a collective fantasy that held a substantial portion of the American people in its pathological grip. Obama was young, vibrant, eloquent and exotic. He was the quintessence of “cool.” His very name was a multicultural freebie. And of course, he was black, thereby promising in virtue of skin tone to redeem the nation of its antebellum past. (That Obama was only half-black and completely foreign to the African-American heritage did not register.) Moreover, Obama was the Utopian candidate who pledged to heal a sick and broken planet, to make peace with dedicated enemies, to eradicate poverty, to compel the supposedly rising oceans to recede, and to bring the Golden Age out of the realm of myth into the real world at last. The anointed one had arrived. As a somewhat chastened Barbara Walters later confessed, “We thought he was going to be…the next messiah.”

We know today that his resonating promises -- and they were legion -- did not come to pass, with the single exception of his commitment to transform America. Why the most successful country in the world needed to be transformed was not immediately obvious, except to a generation that had been “educated” to believe America was the source of all the world’s ills, to a hydra-headed grievance industry that refused to take responsibility for its own lack of achievement or success, and to an obtuse and besotted media conglomerate -- “knucklehead row,” to adopt Andrew Klavan’s apt description of New York Times columnists. And America has indeed been transformed, from a powerful, feared, wealthy and confident nation into a zymotic disaster zone, tearing itself apart from within, floundering in unpayable debt, and pursuing a ruinous foreign policy that has left critical regions of the globe in a state of incarnadine havoc and the country itself vulnerable to numerous security threats. It has been transformed into a country that, according to a recent Politico poll, almost two thirds of Americans feel “has lost control of its major challenges.”

The crucial issue now, following the GOP wave in the midterm elections, is the 2016 presidential election. Two years is not a long time in the domain of electoral calculation, and potential candidates from both parties are beginning to position themselves at the starting pole. This seems like an opportune moment for a foreign observer familiar with, and fascinated by, American history, one who has followed the American political scene closely for many years and who has no personal stake in electoral outcomes, to offer a few suggestions on the topic of determining preferences -- that is, on how to pick a president.

What I have to say here is starkly obvious. But some things need to be said over and over, no matter how self-evident or how difficult of fulfillment. To begin with, people should not vote their cultural prejudices or rely on beliefs that are plainly irrelevant -- or should be -- to the onerous demands of presidential office. Race has no bearing on whether a person is fit for the job, as should be painfully clear by now. White or black has nothing to do with honesty or competence. Similarly, gender says absolutely nothing about a person’s ability to handle the most important and exacting political function the world has to offer. Male or female has nothing to do with honesty or competence. Gay or straight, able-bodied or handicapped, are also, from this perspective, superficial attributes, negligible quantities. Charm can be deceptive, and glib rhetorical gifts are often a smokescreen for hollowness, ignorance or deceit. None of these elements should operate as criteria in rendering a decision.

All this presumes a sufficient number of mature and sensible voters -- a rather long stretch these days. People who put their personal biases and their immediate or local advantage over the wellbeing of the nation as a whole will, regrettably, disregard my not-to-do list. Low-information and no-information voters are pretty much a lost cause; reclaiming them for the nation would be a Herculean labor. Special-interest voters -- aggrieved minorities, race activists, feminists, entitlement recipients, welfare dependents, illegal immigrants -- will favor the most conspicuous benefactor or ally, although in the long run the prehensile ballot will return to haunt them when the economy stagnates even further and national security is increasingly breached.

It must be said, too, that the electoral system and the parties themselves cannot be absolved of responsibility for the parody of electoral propriety that domestic politics has become. A system prone to all manner of fraud, illegality and dirty tactics, skewed by vast infusions of promotional cash, and distorted by candidates who detest each other more than they despise a belligerent and destructive external foe, is already profoundly compromised. The chances of vetting a worthy candidate are correspondingly slim.

Nonetheless, the simple fact is that the personal features that count may be hard to find or discern beneath the smoke and mirrors of political theatrics. But they are not hard to identify: character (trustworthiness, sincerity), knowledge, intelligence (as opposed to mere cleverness), experience in government, business and/or the military, moral fiber, and the gravitas suited to presidential office -- none of which the current occupant can remotely be said to possess.

Ordained minister and radio host Mychal Massie, who is himself black, has memorably written, “I demand respect for the Office of President and a love of our country and her citizenry from the leader entrusted with the governance of same.” Obama, however, is an “elitist Leninist” who displays “disrespect for the sanctity of the office he holds.” Obama (and his wife) “have taken lies, dishonesty, deceit, mendacity, subterfuge, and obfuscation to new depths.” As Massie wrote in a syndicated column titled “Nero in the White House,” “Jimmy Carter will no longer be looked upon as the worst president in American history; Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton will no longer be recognized as the greatest liars in presidential history.” For Obama “has been a failure on every measurable level. His lying is congenital and compounded by socio-psychological factors of his life.” He continues, “Never in my life, inside or outside of politics, have I witnessed such dishonesty in a political leader.” Under Obama’s debased administration, there can be little doubt that the White House has become a whited sepulcher.

Thus, one might say that the best presidential candidate would be the exact opposite of Barack Hussein Obama -- someone who, mentored by patriots with American values and a commitment to American exceptionalism, would bring to his or her position knowledge of and respect for American history and a sense of humility, not arrogance, towards the task of governing. This candidate would respect the laws of the country, would act out of love for the country and a profound commitment to the safety of its citizens, would seek bipartisan cooperation wherever possible, would work to maintain and strengthen those aspects of the American experiment that have made the nation a beacon of light, and would be determined above all to protect American status and power, both on the international scene through a strong foreign policy and domestically by promoting a robust economy and smaller, non-intrusive government.

Realistically speaking, the virtues I have cataloged that make for presidential caliber or areté are not, as noted, always easy to discern and few individuals can be expected to enjoy the full range of such personal qualities. Ideally speaking, it is the solemn duty of both contending parties to field candidates of integrity and the obligation of the electorate to recognize them. Naturally, neither desideratum is perfectly achievable, though it is at least theoretically feasible to strive for the limits of plausibility. To fail miserably in the twin attempts at morally credible nomination on the one hand and mindful recognition on the other is to fail both one’s country and oneself.

The result of such miscarriages over an extended period is observable today: cultural decline, economic debacle, social strife, political degeneration, and international embarrassment. In effect, we see a country hijacked by the radical, third-left wing of the Democratic Party and headed by the weakest (acknowledged as such even by a top Iranian official), most temperamentally autocratic and morally decadent president in the annals of the American republic, the Deinocheirus mirificus of the liberal West’s geopolitical era.

Let Barack Hussein Obama serve as an object lesson and a cautionary tale to the partisan or unwary voter. If no effort is made to inform oneself, to discount irrelevancies, and to look for the elements of presidential capacity listed above, so far as they exist or are detectable in a defective electoral process, one can only anticipate a repeat performance of the political travesty from which the nation is currently suffering, making national rehabilitation ever more unlikely.

Assuming, of course, that the United States has not yet reached the point of no return. If the Potomac has already been crossed, we may as well, if we can, move to Belize.