Can a Regular American Win the White House?

There is one truth this year that I believe people of all parties and political opinion can agree upon – there is no one candidate in the race for President, which perfectly embodies the ideals of what the job needs. One candidate is too vague in his policies, another is too strident in hers, still another attacks the base of the party whose icon he claims to hold as his mentor, and yet another pretends his record supports his promises, even though the actual facts work against his claims. It is no surprise, that even as both major parties stress the need for high turnout in the elections, both parties are risking a significant ‘stay-home’ protest from disillusioned voters. And almost no one is really comfortable with the remaining selection of candidates.

I think I know part, at least, of what went wrong. It’s not just the Democrats or the Republicans and the judges they would appoint, or how they would handle National Security, or Taxes or Immigration, or so on. Those issues are important, in some cases vitally so, yet on both sides of the aisle we see a lot of discontent, even with the leading candidates saying all the “right” things. So, I would suggest that there is something more, something that has not been considered to any great degree. And that ‘something’ I would offer, is that the one big problem the average voter has with any and all of the crop of Presidential candidates, is that none of them has much at all in common with us.

Look at the brief resumes of the major candidates:

Barack Obama – Parents above-average income, went to private school (Punahou Academy). Worked 2 years after college (Political Science major) at a white-collar corporation job, then became community activist in Chicago. Harvard Law School, so he’s a lawyer. Practiced Civil Rights law, elected as State Senator, lost run for Congress in 2000, won U.S. Senate seat in 2004. Wrote three books as Senator, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth about $1.3 million.

Hillary Clinton – Parents wealthy, went to Wellesley and Yale (Political Science, Law). Attorney with Rose Law Firm, staff of Nixon Impeachment committee, First Lady of Arkansas 1979-81, 1983-92, First Lady of White House 1993-2000, won U.S. Senate seat in 2000. Wrote four books as First lady, got the book deals on the basis of her public image. Personal wealth about $34.9 million.

John McCain – Son of Admiral John Sydney McCain (CINCPAC), graduated U.S. Naval Academy (1958) and National War College (1974). Shot down 1967 over North Vietnam, famous for resisting torture and building morale among fellow POWs. Suffered six years before release to U.S. Elected U.S. Representative 1982, won U.S. Senate seat in 1986. Famous for putting his personal goals first. Wote four books as Senator, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth around $2.5 million.

Mike Huckabee – Blue-collar parents, degree in Religion from Ouchita Baptist University, Masters in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Church Pastor, then head of Baptist State Convention of Arkansas. Elected Lt. Governor of Arkansas 1993-6, Governor 1996-2007. Wrote five books as Governor, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth around $0.9 million.

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As usual, the Democrats as a group turn out to be the rich elitists. Sure, Mitt Romney had a pile of money, but he was the only really rich Republican, while the high-profile Democrats include John Edwards ($31 million), Al Gore ($120 million), and Ted Kennedy ($300 million). What I do see in common, however, is a long period of government work. Pretty much all the major candidates have been in positions of federal employment in high-status posts for more than a decade, except for Obama, whose political activism in Chicago serves the same purpose. That is, every one of these people has been trained and taught to believe that government is the solution.

Every one.

Yes, every so often we get a George W. Bush, who generally understands that government needs to answer to the people, and in some rare cases we get a Ronald Reagan, who understands that government is the problem far more often than it is the solution. But we also know that in the main, a career politician loses sight of what most Americans believe, hope, and work for. I note that in their cases, the political experience was supplemented by a life outside politics. And if you look at the more disappointing nominees from elections in the past generation, it is usually the more “experienced” candidate who fails to ignite excitement; Kerry 2004, McCain 2000, Dole 1996, Mondale 1984, and so on. This year, even though he misjudged the timing and could not get his campaign funding going, Fred Thompson still generated a lot of buzz, and in fact many Republicans would reconsider their opposition to McCain, if Thompson were tabbed the VP nominee. The reasons are simple, but important: Thompson spoke as a clear, no-nonsense Conservative, and he also resonated as one of the regular people. If Fred had started his campaign back in 2007 when people first started pushing him to run, he’d have built up enough momentum and campaign resources to blow away the competition. This was partly due to Thompson’s own charisma and plain speaking, but also to the fact that Thompson has a life outside politics, and has earned a few paychecks that did not come from the public trough.

That would seem to say that a candidate could win the White House, regardless of party, if he or she came from a life outside politics, who could address the political needs of the nation without sounding like he or she would become part of that machine. I think that’s part of what’s going on with Obama; he is completely out-to-lunch in his plans, but he is so obviously not part of the Clinton Political Machine that his inexperience works to his advantage. That’s a problem for McCain, then. The man exudes experience, but it’s not exactly the ‘wise patient sage’ kind. John McCain exudes the ‘I know better than you, so shaddup’ kind of experience, and aside from political disagreements, a lot of Republicans rightly worry about how that appearance will affect voters in the General Election.

You might reasonably wonder why experience could be a liability for a Presidential candidate. After all, in every other election the incumbent is known to hold a commanding advantage in every aspect, unless some scandal or drastic change in his image comes to light. But this is because of the nature of the job. Congressmen, and especially Senators, want someone who knows all about their many rules and procedures; a first-term Representative has no clout in D.C. and spends more than a year just finding out how everything works. Also, the machine in Congress is well-established, and is one of the few truly bipartisan traditions honored by both Republicans and Democrats – the veterans get the choice slots and favors. The White House is much, much different, however. A President knows he will serve one or two terms, but that’s it. He knows as well, however, that from his first day he has tremendous power and influence as President, even if his margin of victory was thin or contentious. Most Presidents start to leave their mark early on – they know what they were elected to do, what they want to accomplish, and from the start they chase those goals. It has long been noted that most two-term Presidents get most of their signal accomplishments done in their first term, and often early in that term, to boot. This is because people usually want different things from a new President, and the new President has at least a limited mandate to set that course. Experience in the job is not all that big a deal for a President.

So, what about the executive experience a President is said to need? Certainly, executive experience is important, but it still has to be properly used. Jimmy Carter had executive experience as a Governor before he became President, but he was a complete failure as a Federal Chief Executive. On the flip side, John Kennedy had far less experience in government than his successor Lyndon Johnson, but Kennedy was far more successful in his work; his three years stand to Kennedy’s credit far more than Johnson’s five years do for him, even with all his Senate experience. I would go so far as to point out that Reagan, GWB, and Harry Truman all cut their executive teeth on real-world situations long before they ever did so in political office. The ideal President, therefore, would be a candidate qualified through a proper grounding in Constitutional ideals and a decent knowledge of American History, but with little to no exposure to the surreal political establishment.

Sadly, it appears that it is too late for a regular-guy candidate to show up and save the 2008 Presidential Election, but I wonder if the Blogosphere might be useful in seeking such a candidate for 2012? There are thousands of bloggers who know qualified leaders, whose proven excellence qualifies them for attention to the needs of the nation. It wouldn’t be the first time that people discovered someone better than their party’s nominee after they had locked in the wrong guy, but it could make the difference in where the political parties, and the nation, are taking the rest of us.

The Knucklehead of the Day award
Daniel Ortega on Barack Obama