An American president is an icon, “The leader of the free world,” they’re often referred to. History has judged some kindly, others—not so much.
So what qualities does it take to ensure that a president has the kind of legacy that guarantees people will think of them with reverence?
First, the president must be a leader. Ask anyone what it takes to be a leader, and you’ll hear things like charisma, strong ideas, motivation, etc. But frankly, the only thing you need to be a leader, by definition, is followers.
While I don’t think there are any polls indicating how many Americans consider themselves apolitical, the fact is, if you attempt to start a political conversation with a majority of Americans, in my experience, people more often than not will say things like, “they’re all corrupt” or “I couldn’t care less about politics.”
Many people do have political views, but not many can be bothered to actually listen to the news, inform themselves on the issues, consider both sides of an argument, and actively be engaged in the political process.
The Washington Times reported that voter turnout was just 36.4% in 2014, indicating that a significant majority of Americans have simply succumbed to whatever fate the voting minority foists upon them. This is a clear indication that few of our politicians anymore are leaders, because they simply aren’t engaging people in a way that makes them want to participate.
So what should a potential president do to be a leader?
Leaders are the opposite of followers. Seems simple enough, but that means that by definition, they should not be using polling, social media trending, or other such factors when making arguments. Instead, they should be original in their thoughts. Find issues people have either ignored, forgotten about, or weren’t aware of, and bring them to light with a fresh focus, and clearly understandable arguments.
For instance, Steve Jobs brought the iPod, iPhone, and iPad to market, not because of focus groups, but because he thought of something no one else did that we consumers didn’t even know we wanted, but now can’t live without. There was no focus group telling him to do it, he used his imagination to pave a trail every one of his competitors are now following. That’s leadership.
Rand Paul is doing a great job of this by reaching out to colleges, minority groups, and other potential voters who traditionally do not vote GOP, and he’s making a solid case as to why they should.
A great president must also be strong. One little forgotten example would have to be George H.W. Bush in his dealing with Iraq invading Kuwait. After gaining support to address Hussein militarily, Bush delivered an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait by January 15th, 1991 or else.
Saddam Hussein ignored the warning, and the full brunt of the United States military and its willing allies was unleashed on Saddam’s army the following night. Bush did not give him a second warning, he did not do some half-hearted, “I mean it Saddam, get out” nonsense, extending the deadline to avoid war. He said what he was going to do and he did it. This kind of strength of conviction puts all other would-be enemies on notice that we are not to be messed with.
A president must be an intelligent problem solver. Some of the greatest corporate leaders are great, not because they know everything, but because they know who to ask when they need answers and/or help, and can make intelligent decisions based on the information those advisers provide.
When you see a president who behaves as if they know everything, that should be your first sign they are not an effective leader, as they’re simply far too arrogant and ignorant to listen to people who often know better.
For instance, when Obama fired then GM CEO Rick Wagoner, as if somehow he knew what was better for GM than their acting CEO, his unwarranted hubris was obvious to everyone in the automotive industry, many of who rightfully found it offense and wrong, and of course, GM ended up filing for bankruptcy anyway, which is what Wagoner said needed done all along.
A most recent Gallup poll shows that 42% of Americans are also independent. This makes independents effectively the largest “party” in America, albeit effectively a non-party. So a great president will find a way to not only appeal to their base, but also to reach out to people who aren’t partisan.
How does a president do that? It is my opinion that such a president would have to show that he or she places logic and reason before party lines. Any conclusion they come to should be well thought out, well-reasoned, and then told in a way that everyone can understand.
It is all too common for a Democrat or Republican to be strangely apoplectic about something the opposition does that is obviously quite benign, and most people can’t be bother with. A president should understand that the more they complain about their political opponents, the more they become the boy who cries wolf. If you want to be a great president, put politics aside when analyzing any issue, and make sure if you do attack, it is genuinely warranted—pick your battles wisely.
The president should be someone who doesn’t want the job, but begrudgingly accepts the position for the greater good.
George Washington railed against the idea of a president at all, fearing a president would be too much like a king. He begrudgingly accepted the nomination once it was determined there would be one, and was elected handily.
When it was asked by the Senate if he wanted a title such as “your excellency” or “your highness,” Washington simply wanted to be called the more modest “Mr. President.”
When it came time for a potential 3rd term, he stepped down voluntarily, again to avoid the idea of being some sort of supreme ruler. As such, all following presidents, until the American statist icon Franklin D. Roosevelt ran and was re-elected for a third term, never sought out a 2nd re-election as an homage to Washington.
An American president should ultimately see themselves not as a ruler, but as a guarantor of rights—a person charged with protecting the people, not presiding over them. Sadly, Gary Johnson and Rand Paul seem to be the only two candidates running with this mentality. But with any luck, one of them will gain the traction to bring America what can fairly be called another great president.