At last count, twenty individuals have formally declared their intentions to seek the office of President of the United States of America. Each of these men and women is stating a case to the people of our great country. Each candidate is demonstrating to us why we should support his or her candidacy by casting our precious vote in the 2016 election.
This will be the fourteenth presidential election in which I have been eligible to vote. I am proud to say that I’ve voted in each of the previous thirteen. I’ve voted for the winner seven times, and the loser six times. In other words, I’ve been with the plurality 54 percent of the time.
Each of the two major political parties is now beginning the process of selecting a nominee. A series of primary election contests leads up to formal nominating conventions of the Democrats and Republicans held in the summer of 2016 at which time party officials will decide who they believe will be the best person to represent their interests. We the people have been invited to participate in this nomination process and in the general election that follows.
What qualities or personal character traits do we consider when choosing a President?
To be frank, the election process is totally subjective and somewhat irrational. So much so that I’m amazed that our country has survived and even prospered since George Washington assumed the office 226 years ago. Fortunately, the Founders recognized their own limitations, as well as the inability of ordinary people to objectively decide for whom they should cast their vote. They created a durable system of governance in which no single person or group could gain enough power for long enough to do great harm. We are truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and the selection of a person to lead the executive branch of this government results from our collective decision, as crazy as it may seem.
The irrational nature of the process is demonstrated in the absurd assumption that our collective ignorance averages out as an intelligent choice. Think of that for a moment. In the most recent presidential election, approximately 136 million votes were cast. How informed were these voters? What information did they have? How objective was that information? Where did they get their information? How did they decide? See what I mean?
How do people decide how to cast their vote? Some vote out of loyalty to a particular political party. Others follow the advice of various special interest groups to which they belong such as unions, churches, and countless organizations and associations. Many voters pay attention to the advice of so-called experts, including newspaper editorials, radio talk show hosts, and partisan spokespersons. I’ve observed that some listen to a close friend or family member they trust or not, and decide how to vote, or how not to vote. I’m sure there are people who just flip a coin, or decide when they stare at the names on the ballot without any consideration beyond what name they like best, or which one is listed first or last on the ballot. Of course, many people do not vote which is their right. Why should someone vote if they don’t know the candidates? Why should we want these people to vote?
Even politically focused junkies who follow the nomination process very closely will make different decisions. No one knows the absolute best candidate, because no one can predict the future, or the circumstances that will challenge and possibly overwhelm our next president. Nevertheless, I’ve identified seven qualities that I believe we should consider. These have nothing to do with political party affiliation or policy positions. These are personal character traits that would make a great world leader and a remarkable President for our country. They follow in order of increasing importance.
Humility – It is important to know oneself, to understand one’s own limitations, and to appreciate the extraordinary potential of other voices and ideas. Effective leaders surround themselves with excellent people, and they are good listeners. They readily give credit when it is deserved. They deflect attention away from themselves recognizing the value of teamwork, everyone having something important to contribute.
Eloquence – Presidents who have the ability to communicate their ideas are more likely to earn our respect and our commitment. They possess the wonderful ability to explain the challenges facing the nation in a way that gets our attention and ensures our collective understanding. We may not always agree, but at least we understand. That understanding encourages meaningful and constructive dialogue. We know the President’s thinking on the great issues we face. Sometimes there are no good choices, and an excellent leader helps us to know what needs to be done, what is the best course of action.
Courage – Effective leaders exhibit the courage of their convictions. They consider the voices of the people, they consider the recommendations from their advisors, but they decide what is right and in the best interest of the country for the long-term. They reject populist impulses, just to be popular. If the right course of action is unpopular, they explain their reasoning. They are not afraid of pressure groups and they recognize the people elected them to be leaders, not followers of popular opinion or political expedience.
Compassion – Strong leaders care about people from all walks of life. They genuinely strive to find solutions that will resolve difficult problems and improve the lives of all people. They do this without regard for political benefits that might accrue to themselves or others in their immediate circle. They are focused on the important issues of the day, and are genuinely troubled by our failings to mitigate society’s calamities. They are tireless in their efforts to streamline government’s response, to render more effective aid and comfort to those in need or turmoil.
Principles – We want a President who has an ideological framework, a moral compass, and a thorough commitment to the heritage and founding principles of the United States of America. We want a President who understands the underlying philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It is important that the President guarantee the continuing development of our nation and the prosperity of the people.
Wisdom – Intelligence is essential in an effective leader and a President, but wisdom is the ability to use those gifts to make good decisions. Wise leaders anticipate the future and they anticipate the consequences of their decisions and actions. They consider alternatives and use rational methods to ascertain their relative viability. Wise leaders are not swayed by false prophets nor by populist purveyors. They understand people and the infinite complexity of social systems. They take appropriate action when time demands it. They are decisive and thoughtful. They do what is right and smart.
Integrity – The most important quality of a President is integrity. This is beyond honesty for truth rises above human discourse. Integrity is in the heart and soul. It guides them, it gives them strength and conviction. We want a President who tells us what they believe, without concern for political correctness. Presidents with integrity are absolutely immune to conflicts of interest. They place the rights of the people foremost in their thinking, and they never attack others for purposes of self-aggrandizement. Integrity is the foremost quality. Never vote for a candidate for President who does not tell the truth and who is morally insecure and vulnerable. Nothing surpasses integrity as a quality we should expect from the leader of our nation and the leader of the free world.