It’s only natural in an election year, to think about what kind of person you would like to be the President of the United States or POTUS.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the declared candidates — or even politicians we might want to draft into the race — I’m talking about pure speculation. What sort of person — with what sort of experiences — would make a great president?
In this age where we are all more globally connected and yet wary of even our closest neighbors, I would want as president someone who has spent significant time overseas. Not as a tourist — someone who has lived overseas in an apartment, not a hotel. Someone who has the ability to consider the United States from a foreign perspective.
Ideally, the foreign experience would take place in an Islamic country, so my POTUS would have a personal sense of the culture that so many Americans fear right now. Perhaps this sort of perspective would temper or at least inform decisions to start wars, or to use drones as killing machines. I think it can be hard for some people to understand how large the United States looms in the politics and economics of every other nation on earth, but a POTUS who has lived as an ex-patriate might not have that blindspot.
Of course, my ideal POTUS would have real, hands-on experience in the United States. How about a POTUS who began life as a social worker? Or nurse? Or parole officer? Someone who dealt with people of every income and learned about the problems people face when one sick child or car accident or dumb mistake seems to lead inexorably toward bankruptcy or incarceration. And on the positive side, my POTUS would have worked through a local government system and could spot flaws and inefficiencies to be corrected while also recognizing higher purposes and successes that could be replicated.
Domestic policy as designed by a social service employee could be amazing. Access to health care and some way to control costs would be a priority, of course. But just working in a social service agency would encourage my POTUS to seek new ideas, perhaps pushing Judge Brandeis’ formulation of states being laboratories of democracy, into making states laboratories of social policy or education reform, or any manner domestic innovations.
Remember that hypothetical graduation speech by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich? Sure you do — people mistakenly credited it to Kurt Vonnegut and someone else made it into a song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”? My ideal POTUS would follow the advice she gave: Live in New York City for a while, but leave before it makes you hard, and live in California but leave before it makes you soft. In fact, it would be great if my ideal POTUS was not identified with just one state or region of the country, but could claim both a big city and a small state as “home.” Just as living abroad would help my POTUS internationally, a sense of the many regional and state differences within this country would help my POTUS connect with people all over this extremely diverse nation.
I think it’s important that my POTUS is a parent, or if not, have strong relationships with the next generation. This bond could be with sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, much younger siblings, or a best friend’s children. The point being, while Representatives in the House may work hard to insure their next two-year term, the POTUS should be looking beyond four, or even eight years, and make investments at a generational scale, the way Eisenhower did with the highway system and Kennedy did with the space program.
In the heat of this primary season, there are Republicans saying they would never vote for Trump — or Cruz, and Bernie supporters who say they would never vote for Hillary or vice versa.
To which I say: It’s great that you found a candidate whose ideas and leadership you admire, and more power to you. But when it comes down to politics, things are too messy to throw away your vote because you didn’t get your ideal candidate.
My own POTUS wishlist is somewhat improbable except for the fact that our current president, fulfils all of my criteria. President Obama lived abroad in Indonesia, a majority Muslim nation, went to college in California and New York City, and calls both Hawaii and Chicago his home. He worked in social services and is a family man.
Obama would seem to be my ideal POTUS, and, for the most part, I’ve admired his presidency. However, he has made a number of choices that I’ve personally disagreed with. And of course that’s true: He has different information than I do and has politics and legacy to wrestle with. Also, he’s not me.
It’s easy to get caught up conjuring up an ideal POTUS, but we’ll probably each be happier — and ultimately advance our own political causes — if we can accept that real-life candidates are never exactly what we want.