Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Don't Care If The President Is Nice

Ted Haggard's replacement as President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Rev. Leith Anderson, has a piece in the Post/Newsweek On Faith forum today in which he writes:
Presidents of the United States are much more than the leaders of the Executive Branch of government. They should be the moral spokespersons and examples of the best of America to our nation and to the world. Yes, we want a president who does a good job, but we also want a president who is a good person.

For the past seven years, we have put up with a President who has put forward nominees for various offices always with the proviso that so-and-so is "a good man/woman". Usually, that person turns out to be either incompetence, corrupt, or both (yes, you, Alberto Gonzalez). I have often wondered about this particular point as one that sells a nominee to office, and it must be some kind of code for someone who goes around gabbing about how they don't drink/smoke/get blowjobs in bathrooms from female interns (receiving the same in a public restroom from a strange man might be another story).

I would much prefer a President who didn't announce his or her personal qualities as part of what makes for a good candidate/potential office-holder. We have had Presidents who were hardly what one would call personable - George Washington comes to mind, as do Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge - and some who were among the most affable men ever - Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Carter among this latter category. For most of our history, the quality of "goodness" to which Anderson refers, was simply not considered important. Some of our greatest candidates were, at best, morally deficient (Harding was an alcoholic, breaking the Volstead Act in a series of wild parties in the White House; FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton all had a weakness for the ladies, the first two having long-time mistresses, the latter two being serially adulterers). Some were criminals (Nixon, the aforementioned Harding). Of course, being morally deficient in some are does not make one either a bad person, nor a potentially good person. It seems unrelated to what it takes to be a good President. Harry Truman and Richard Nixon were both faithful husbands and doting fathers (Nixon almost obsessively so), and while Truman's reputation has been retrieved from the dustbin of history, contemporaneously, he was always weak, and his administration dogged by scandal and various political missteps. Eisenhower and Ford had wives who were closet alcoholics. Grover Cleveland had a child out of wedlock whom he supported financially but did not become involved with personally.

All this is to say that I would much rather not think about whether the President was a "good person", because the definition of that particular two-word phrase is open to interpretation. It could refer to compassion, or moral stringency, or any number of things. I would much rather have a President who acted in the interests of the United States, and for the benefit of the people of the United States, than wonder whether or not he or she had a roving eye, tippled on off hours, or yelled at the kids and kicked the dog. We have suffered with a President who is a nice guy for far too long. I might actually prefer a rake.

Virtual Tin Cup

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