You Don’t Have To Be Smart To Be President

I hate politics.

I know it’s important to stay informed.  I know people should take responsibility for their government.  But I just can’t.  The sheer volume of bullshit makes my head spin.  Any time I try to pay attention to what goes on in political circles I get that nervous twitch like I survived being struck by lightening but the experience is still with me.

I’ve gotten into the habit of following the mostly politically focused blog of a good friend of mine.  And I run into things like this:  John McCain doesn’t even know what this war is about. And this is his war!  Him and his Grand Old Prick buddies are milking this war like it’s their life’s blood.  They’re all making off like bandits somehow, so people keep dying and the world hates us a little more each day. And they can do this because we put them in charge.

Good Lord Please Have Mercy (That’s how bad it is.  My Southern Baptist roots are showing.)  How can we find ourselves in a place where a man has a serious chance of being Commander in Chief of our entire nation at the same time he’s foaming at the mouth to continue a war he doesn’t understand?  He will be making decisions that affect not only the lives of people in this country, but the lives of people in other nations as well.  And we don’t even require him to be smart.

That is what really galls me.  That is the reason politics will never be something I can actively participate in.  There is so much riding on the decisions that politicians make.  But you don’t even have to be remotely intelligent to be one.  You wouldn’t let someone drive your car who frequently got confused on which pedal was the brake, right?  You wouldn’t hire a carpenter after he told you he likes to use styrofoam instead of wood because the nails go in easier, right? Why would we continue to elect presidents who aren’t smart enough to even create the illusion that they know what they’re doing?

I’m not talking about being clever or charming or crafty in that Snidely-Whiplash-mustache-twisting sort of way.  I mean really smart as in educated and informed and experienced and well-reasoning.  Essentially you should be capable of understanding and performing the tasks assigned by your position.  Admittedly, the position of President of the United States is an enormous undertaking that requires expertise in a myriad of areas.  But that’s exactly why we should be looking for someone who is mentally prepared to shoulder this responsibility.

How do we ensure that our candidates for president are smart?  I have no idea.  How do we screen people for jobs in other areas?  Resumes and interviews.  Well, we sort of have those in place now.  The current Democratic candidate election seems to be abnormally focused on past experienced.  Who’s going to be ready on Day One.  The problem is that the candidates can pay lip service to the things on their resume but they have no real substance.  This guy outlines it pretty well.  You can’t have a resume for being president.  There is no other job like it in the world.  As a member of Congress or a State Politician or a foreign diplomat you’ll certainly get some experience in some aspects of the job.  But even that experience won’t compare to the Global-level magnitude of what you’ll have to contend with as president.  So essentially it’s all circumstantial.  No one is ready to be president on Day One.

To paraphrase my new favorite quote.  It’s important to be ready on Day One, but it’s more important to be right on Day One.

Interviews?  Give me a  break.  Okay, if we hold the candidates’ many speeches and debates as surrogate interviews, we can examine this for a second.  This is our chance to talk with this person and have them convince us that they’re the man (or woman) for the job.  This idea is flawed for a couple of reasons.

A) They don’t have to tell the truth.

b)  There’s no way for the average lay person to tell if what they’re saying is any good.

The first point is obvious.  Politicians contradict themselves on important points all the time.  Whether they’re misinformed or telling blatant lies, it’s par for the course to catch politicians spouting falsehoods.   And it will continue to be par for the course as long as there are no real consequences for lying.  In fact, the only thing you seem to get in trouble for as a politician these days is having sex.  So these people have carte blanche to do and say whatever they want to secure their position.  Strike one.

The second point is the more troubling one in my mind.  When I listen to speeches and debates, my bullshit meter is going crazy.  I consider mine to be pretty good, even when I’m not completely informed about the topics under discussion.  If you pay attention, you can tell when a person hasn’t thought something through or they’re skirting the issue.  But when talking to others about the issues on the table, I’m frequently reminded that most people don’t have any real insight into the complex workings of government.  If we’re talking about a polarizing question like “Should we continue the war or not?” or “Pro-life or Pro-choice?”, people can easily take one side or the other and feel pretty good about joining the discourse.  But when you ask a candidate what their plan is for handling the war in Iraq, you get 5 minutes of incoherent mumbling.  “Continue to root out insurgents”, “Withdraw our troops in stages”, “Invest in the Iraqi government”.  I don’t know anything about military tactics or foreign policy so at the end of the day I don’t know if these are good ideas.  Strike two.

If I was well equipped to evaluate these ideas and choose which I think are the most appropriate given the situation, guess what?  I’d be President of the United States.  So inevitably, many people will end up choosing their candidate based on the usual party lines, or on the polarizing issues (He’s not a Republican.  He opposes the war.  He’s black!  Go Obama!)

I think McCain is a warmongering idiot.  I think Clinton is self-aggrandizing and self-serving.  And to be fair, my inherent cynicism makes me fully aware that Barack may be playing us all for saps with this “hope for the future” bit, even though I want to believe him.  This is a terrible way to choose a leader.  It’s very possible we’re gonna strike out again this time.

Man I hate politics.

5 thoughts on “You Don’t Have To Be Smart To Be President

  1. In one view, politics is a whole of which our own process is the greasy part. It is not the entirety of politics that we see played out.

    In another view, a quote of Gandhi might provide some inspiration:

    If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.

    I think there is experience that prepares you. You might not speak with the same authority, but traveling as a Governor or a Congress Critter does carry weight and yield impact. Working with the legislature to pass laws and the public to build support are definitely critical skills for a leader.

    But I take issue with your thoughts on interviews.
    People routinely lie in interviews. Just because a lot of people you know never would, doesn’t exclude that behavior from all people.

    The issue of trust is a severe one. I think it ought to be much easier to eject a sitting President or Congress, and that elections ought to be a much faster and more streamrolled process. In fact, this gives me an idea for a post!

    On your carte blanche strike point, that’s dead on, unfortunately. We need to hold politicians accountable for their actual crimes!

    Great post. Dear lord I love politics.

  2. Pingback: Shorter Elections + Instant Impeachment = Better Government « Fitness for the Occasion

  3. I think I find the biggest issue in politics being the mass media. The “sources” of “information” put out what they want people to see and hear which guides their opinions. The fundamental problem is that most people do not realize that these outlets of information are biased and flawed. =\

    It’s unfortunate.

  4. Nader, Paul, Gravel. They understand the issues. That’s all I’m going to say. I’ve read about 80 pages of stuff in the last hour and my brain is lettin me know its time 2 stop speed readin and go watch tv. I most elucidate on this further when my brain doesn’t feel like its gonna explode

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