Politics is seldom black and white, especially when it comes to presidential politics. One’s “perfect” candidate seldom runs, and one person’s ideal president is another’s worst nightmare.
Years ago I read a fascinating political thriller — Fletcher Knebel’s “Dark Horse.” It’s the tale of a presidential campaign where the Democratic candidate dies after the convention, and the party bosses have to choose his replacement. After hours of wrangling, they finally give up and pick a New Jersey turnpike commissioner named Eddie Quinn. Eddie is seen by everyone as a place-holder, mainly intended to keep the Democratic party machinery running — they’ve written off the race to the Republicans, they just don’t want to get landslided by having no candidate at the top of the ticket.
So Eddie goes out and runs the kind of campaign he wants, spouting off his random notions and intentions and crazy ideas. And then he starts gaining in the polls. In fact, as the actual election draws near, it actually becomes a horse race.
At one point, Eddie himself becomes scared that he might win, and wonders if he should withdraw from the race entirely. That’s when he has a private, one-on-one meeting with the Republican nominee, a Rockefeller Republican. And the man gives Eddie the best advice he possibly can, and it’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart.
He tells Eddie not to ask himself if he is the best man to be president. That is an impossible standard; no matter who you are, if you’re absolutely candid with yourself, you can think of someone better qualified to sit in the Oval Office.
Rather, ask yourself if you’re the best candidate running. Do you honestly think that you’d be a better president than anyone else on the ballot?
It’s a simple application of pragmatism vs. idealism. None of the candidates are anyone’s ideal. But we don’t have a choice of anyone, nor can we take a bit from Candidate A, a bit from Candidate B, and so on and make a FrankenPrez out of them.
No, we have to look at all the candidates and see which is the best of the available choices.
That was foremost in my mind when I started dividing the major candidates and deciding who would get my vote and my support.
The first category was “I’d like to see this person as my president.” In that field, one came to mind: Fred Thompson.
Thompson has a firm grasp of the proper role of the federal government, and the sorts of limitations it should respect. He also has a solid grip on the serious issues, and simply doesn’t take seriously the questions and situations that shouldn’t be taken seriously. He also has a strong sense of intellectual honesty — back when Bill Clinton was impeached, he voted for conviction on two counts and acquittal on a third, where he thought the charge was overreaching.
Next down on the scale is the “I think they’d do OK as president.” That’s where I put Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. I have some problems with some of their positions and beliefs, but both men have proven themselves to be proven executives with records of accomplishments that they can be proud of.
After that comes the “I think I can live with them as president.” This is where I put those candidates with whom I have some serious disagreements on specific policies, but overall I respect them and think they could be a decent president. Or, at least, a fairly harmless place-holder for four years, until we can get a fresh batch. I have low expectations for these candidates, so it wouldn’t take much for them to avoid my condemnation. This is where I put Barack Obama and John McCain.
Then there’s the “god help us if they get the nomination” tier. These are the candidates that I deeply, deeply hope that they get crushed in the primary, because they would bring to the Oval Office a lot of things that I think would lead to unmitigated disaster, both at home and abroad. here’s where I put Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Mike Huckabee.
Finally, there’s the “shoot me now” candidates. These are the ones that I will hold my nose and vote for whoever the other side puts up, just to keep them out of office. And if both of them win the nominations, I’ll either sit it out or write in Fred Thompson or vote for the Libertarian. That’s where I put Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.
That’s my scale, and my rankings. You can quibble with who I put where, but I think that, if most people are honest with themselves, they’ll admit that they have a similar system they use, too. It might not be as formalized as my five-tiered taxonomy, but it’s how people tend to think.