One of the puzzling parts of this Presidential election season, already almost subsumed in odd and disturbing words and actions, is the agonizing taking place over whether or not Hillary Clinton is a “nice” person. Efforts to make someone running for President sound like your normal, average, nice guy started with President Harrison’s campaign when the effort was made to turn a Virginia aristocratic into to a local country boy born in a log cabin. Campaigns will as well try to paint their opposition as something they are not: Lincoln’s opponents had the habit of comparing him to a baboon: an illiterate, uneducated baboon at that.
I don’t know about you, but I plan on voting for someone who can run the country, not someone who I am panting to sit down and have beer, or if you will, a glass of wine with. The talking head mumbling and op-ed pieces on the warmth and charm of Secretary Clinton’s personality, or lack thereof, have taken up way to much air and paper for no benefit to a voter’s understanding of who they should vote for.
American voters have for years made something vaguely refereed to as “character”, as opposed to positions on issues or demonstrated competence, one of the most important parts of their instinctive choice of who to vote for for President. In this election there appear to be a lot of people who are trying to substitute being a “nice” person for character.
If we elected Presidents on the basis of whether or not they were “nice” people, there would be a clear majority of Presidents who would not have been President. On a personal basis, Washington had little or nothing to say to most people and it was not because his false teeth hurt. Wilson’s arrogance was well known and Lyndon Johnson never had anyone that I have heard of call him a nice person. You can add Jackson, Nixon and both Roosevelt’s to the list of not necessarily a “nice” person to the list and keep going.
I would like to suggest that while something called character may have a role in selecting the person to sit in the White House, the more important generality to rely on is competence. In our fast moving, dangerous life, there is no time for on the job training for the President of the United States. We live in a world and a country so riled by events and change that waiting for a new President to figure out where the bathrooms are in the White House would be a dangerous luxury.
The US role as the preeminent economic and military country in the world was dumped in our laps at the end of the second German War. We were the only one left standing. We remain in that position today and it generates anger and envy. Our response to this reality needs to be carefully measured by an American President who has the emotional maturity and strength of mind to deal firmly yet calmly with the challenges we cannot avoid.
Racism, the curse and cross of our country since its founding, with its many manifestations, remains an inescapable issue from which President’s may attempt to run but they cannot hide. As the white male dominance of American politics and American culture fades into history we have an opportunity to deal with more of the outcroppings of the racism endemic in American life. An American President who fails to address an issue so fundamental to our country will join President Buchanan in the list of truly awful Presidents whose failure to address the most important issue of his time in office forced subsequent generations to pay a price even higher than it was going to be, but for his failure.
With these kinds of difficult and occasionally frightening issues on our plate, I find this wailing and gnashing of teeth about whether or not Hillary Clinton is a “nice” person, not simply silly but pernicious. We are in the process of attempting select someone who can help lead us through difficult times, not someone who will become my BFF.