Published on History New Network on January 6, 2016
Editor’s Note: The author of this essay cast his first vote in 1938, first presidential vote in 1940. He majored in History with a Political Science accompaniment at Emory, UGA, and Stanford, and served in the Navy in war and peace. With his wife Beth he was a precinct person for a decade. Both attended Oregon’s famous midwinter Dorchester conferences for three decades. We think his commentary worth a few minutes of thoughtful reading….
I really believe it is time to speak up. The Republican Party is not progressing toward a viable nominee. The Democratic Party is not getting the public ready for a possible Vice Presidential selection, specifically, a leader of presidential caliber who offers promise of governing successfully if something happens to the President. In my view, the Nation lucked out in the end with FDR’s odd choice of alert high schooler and businessman Harry Truman. This time, let’s at least choose for VP one appropriately educated, with serious skills and major administrative experience. We should not gamble (as before) that all will be well as time passes and people stop saying “Harry…, who?” (In time, that surprise choice developed into a no kidding credit to Independence, Mo., though everybody was not satisfied.)
I have had the feeling for some time that our next President will be of the female persuasion. Especially is that the case when Mrs. Clinton is fully rested. Her triumph is likely to happen, no matter the vicissitudes from now to election day. That Secretary of State who has been all over the globe the past few years, who served in the Senate, who actually occupied the White House though not as prime mover, still looks fresh and, in debates, leader like. She didn’t handle her mail at all intelligently–or is the word presciently? She’s not error-free. But she endured her husband’s misconduct in yesteryear. (Bill’s role if returned to those corridors and scattered rooms seems to me to be a possible problem, but maybe it will work out, as they say. Maybe New York City will become a good locale for him to love.)
Pleasant former governor O’Malley of Baltimore (!) does not impress me as ready to be President, not by objectionable characteristics, nor really by absence of experience; but maybe it is too soon. There was a time when he led his now headlined city (but it is not an association that builds admiration far across the country). The member of a “presidential family” about whom assumptions were made, seems lackluster, and seems to comprise a bit of a vacuity. Yes, he governed Florida, stereotypically a place of recreational inaction, of all places, but “we” never noticed.
Mr. Sanders, almost always angry (and yelling as one lacking the vocabulary to persuade with facts and logic) has a rare economic conviction that he advances with unqualified pride. He endorses totally a Socialism that appears to this one time specialist at first glance unapologetically Marxist. While his version seems in some policy matters to be molded superficially Progressive or Liberal in aspect, it does seem ultimately to be inescapably old school. He apparently repudiates “Communist” and disavows admiration for the U. S. S. R. and its notorious leadership, but one waits to learn more on this subject, expecting ripe quotations sooner or later.
We, in 50 states banded together, were the last time I looked, welfare capitalist, not shrinking from endless government regulation (at every level) of most everything in our society. While that too white haired, somewhat aged, too often borderline uncontrollably angry advocate does not emerge as Leninist or Stalinist by any means, choosing him would seem to be a quick and total rejection of any form of the Capitalism under the Constitution that sustained this Nation through the Westward Movement and built the giant machine that routinely tries to support our working force. To me, at best, he doesn’t fit in well with The American System.
Our Constitution and our Laws are totally alien from any such doctrines. Moreover, when Socialism has been tried it seems to have normally been found wanting by electorates except in small, cold places. I at least do not think it helps much that in my lifetime Norman Thomas was an admirable political figure, and that Socialists routinely ran for mayor in New York City, Reading, and Milwaukie.
Exposure to public view of several with real experience, persons who could help run the United States from the Oval Office, has been helpful. The gubernatorial experience of Kasich of Ohio and Christie of New Jersey has in my view qualified them; their defects do not seem fatal. (And the former has real legislative experience.) The narrow, crusading, parochialism of grim Cruz, the religious obsession of pleasant Huckabee, and flaws in others that have had visibility up to now seem crippling, at least to me. I can imagine handsome Rubio growing in office if fate singles him out; maybe his time will come—some other day.
For the rest: experience governing New York State or City cannot be ignored in anybody, but so far capable ones who once led from those places have not struck a spark. Gone are former governors Al Smith, Thomas E. Dewey, and utility leader Wendell Willkie, all failures as candidates. Is the Party that thought Sara Palin a good idea for national exposure about to do it again? Is the Party that stuck with Adlai Stevenson too long, fully serious?
I am pleased there is a woman being considered by the G. O.P., but surely her record at Hewlett Packard is not close to an indication that she is qualified for our key office. She is not angry in the style of one candidate or condescending like another; rather, she seems to display (to me) an unpleasant superiority that is not entirely warranted and maybe would disqualify her from being electable to any office.
For many years (beginning with a documented freshman term paper in 1936!) I have studied several major presidents of our Country, especially FDR, Hoover, and LBJ. One hopes that from next year’s Presidential possibilities will emerge someone with FDR’s communication skills and lofty view of what our home among homes might somehow become. (Many have forgotten that he learned much as a bureaucrat in the Wilson years and as governor of New York for two terms, evidently getting ready.)
While there continues to be a tiresome drumbeat in some parts of our society against lifetime leader Herbert Hoover, those in the know recognize him as the most decorated of our public leaders. Feeling solvent enough by 1914, he determined to devote his working life away from amassing capital and to “public service” as well as to preserving basic aspects of the American Character. All aspirants can learn from Hoover right now how to serve the Nation (as he did at presidential request in the days of Wilson, Coolidge, Truman, and Eisenhower).
Herbert Hoover has been credited with saving something in the vicinity of “billions” of lives thousands of miles from our shores. He admittedly didn’t enlist thousands of our young men in massive efforts to save or spread Democracy as a wartime president. As Food Administrator under Wilson, major organizer and originator in the Cabinet with Harding and Coolidge, experienced adviser to Truman, and top drawer planner with Ike, he was close to invaluable. Several major entities in the private sector (Boys Clubs; Stanford) who relied on him certainly would agree completely.
FDR and Hoover were Presidential. Gradually, today’s public will come to realize that Lyndon Johnson’s style and real results in Oval Office leadership made the Executive Office a place where ideas were picked up, absorbed, and endorsed. Dreams of emerging national leaders could become feasible public policy. That happened so often because President LBJ (trained in the Congress, remember) knew exactly how to lead.
(Oh. Be sure to bring up “Vietnam” at this point–though it is only peripherally relevant to the domestic presidential concerns dwelt on here. That conflict, thought worthwhile in varying degrees by three presidents at various levels of violence, can never be minimized when evaluating national service or leadership. The decision to escalate the Vietnam War at various points is easily criticized, but it is irresponsible to keep trying to bury the entire LBJ presidential leadership under that phenomenon. Major innovation when achieved should be duly noted.
Let’s, when worrying about this election, use some of the common sense displayed often, though not always, in the past. “We” knew conservative extremist Goldwater was not right for the task. Pretty much the same electorate declined massively to elevate monolithic liberal McGovern. We seem to have been fooled into choosing Nixon once again, it turned out. Still, the electorate totally outguessed the commentators and the politically intelligent ones on “that Hollywood actor” (who in representing the film industry showed a real potential.) Ronald Reagan, smile and all, overcame rejection and proved at home with the grand prize.
A vast number of specialists on the American electoral system and its prominent figures of past and present can write as I have here, dwelling on what seems appropriate at the moment. I certainly hope qualified individuals continue to reach out to the reading public in coming weeks and months. If they don’t, it is entirely possible that the excessively loud candidate waiting focus here will somehow emerge to be a very dangerous leader indeed.
That man identifiable by his initials “D. T.” is the one strong in polls who has to brag incessantly about his wealth. Those of us who hope ardently not to seehis snarl as window dressing to the Marine Band playing Hail to the Chief really don’t want him anywhere near the White House.
That rich man with the hair, the face, the patronizing manner, and the TV polished put down is just not suitable. To the extent I knew anything at all about him, I thought a person named Donald Trump was divorced, associated as landlord with big time gambling in Atlantic City, and occupied on TV or someplace with firing people! He did brag a lot about keeping the Miss Universe Pageant bouncing along. “He can’t be all bad!” “Would you buy a used car from that guy?” “That’s what I thought.” (A columnist I admire just called him “a putz.”)
He is an exceptional entrepreneur, without doubt. Nevertheless, such an individual, I would think, doesn’t need—or deserve—choice, after analytical consideration, for America’s top office. He should not be opining on matters of serious decision-making. Most of all, he should not become the person who occupies the nuclear bomb equipped job called President of the United States.
So there you have it: my considered opinion of where we are now, not in foreign relations, legislation, or other matters of public policy, but on that coming election—especially on its remote but conceivable possibilities. I just had to write out–and offer–my personal biases and prejudices. mixed with a bit of learning. There is still time to reach people who are open to facts and assertion.
A final word of advocacy–if I may: You People watching political TV out there…. And people who ought to be. Wake Up! Make a difference, early on. “Just a little while longer” will be too long. Discard quiescence! Assume now, if you can, the obligation of having influence. Write the editor!
Play some part in choosing our next American President. I want every one of you to do your part in helping to determine who will be (and who won’t be) the leader who will take office January 20, 2017 for the rapidly and inevitably approaching term 2017 to 2021.