News & Current Affairs

September 14, 2008

How to be a good president

How to be a good president

Barack Obama says the most important quality is vision for the future. No, says John McCain, the key requirement is experience – or at least that’s what he said until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Ronald Reagan

A former film star, Ronald Reagan was an excellent communicator

Both want the most powerful job in the world – but neither they, nor anyone else, can agree on what, precisely, are the qualities needed to serve as president of the United States.

Indeed, there is not even a job description – only an oath of office demanding the president defend the US constitution.

What’s more, the job keeps changing, evolving constantly in the 230 years since the founding of the republic.

Still, an understanding has gradually emerged of the key qualities required of a president.

The trouble is, they are so many and various, it’s almost impossible to imagine any normal human being matching up.

Preacher and protector

Ever since Theodore Roosevelt described the presidency as a “bully pulpit,” Americans have expected first-class rhetorical skills from their leaders.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

Mr Obama’s camp hopes to capitalise on Bill Clinton’s lasting popularity

A president must be able to inspire, to preach, to stir the American people to greater things.

In the modern era, Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all had a great talent for communication; so too did Bill Clinton, though in a different style.

The presidents who have struggled – both George Bushes and Jimmy Carter come to mind – were those who lacked oratorical gifts.

But the job requires more than that. Americans look to their president as a protector, someone who will keep the country strong and ward off its enemies.

Roosevelt was a great war leader. As the former Allied commander during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower made Americans feel similarly secure.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans still revere Reagan for winning the Cold War.

Minimum mendacity

Foreign policy acumen is a related and essential element in the presidential kit of parts.

Richard Nixon meets John McCain in 1973

Nixon and John McCain could both claim foreign policy expertise

It’s why Mr McCain makes so much of his own experience in international affairs – and why the Obama camp equally emphasizes Sarah Palin’s lack of a foreign policy record.

The first George Bush’s reputation rests on his skillful handling of the post-Cold War world, while his son will have to persuade future historians that he did not make terrible blunders abroad.

Yet skill on the world stage is not enough to guarantee the respect of posterity.

Richard Nixon regarded himself as a geo-strategic sage, thanks to his opening to China, but he is still known by a single word: Watergate.

Domestic scandal trumps international accomplishments. Put that down as another lesson for those keen to learn how to be a good president: you need to be, if not saint-like in your honesty, at least not so mendacious that you get tangled up in your own deceptions.

It helps if you’re someone who can get things done. Lyndon Johnson will forever be saddled with the disaster of the Vietnam war, but he retains respect for passing a canon of social legislation – from civil rights to his war on poverty – that genuinely improved millions of lives.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter was seen as a decent but aloof president

That was largely down to his mastery of the often arcane ways of the senate, which he had once dominated as majority leader.

That hard-headed, practical ability to get results is often underestimated.

In the words of British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johnson “pushed through so much legislation which has changed the way we think about equality, equal rights and human dignity, and I think that is a huge accolade”.

Star quality

It’s good if you’re a palpably decent man, as Jimmy Carter was – but less good if that makes you seem lofty, prissy or aloof, as Carter often seemed.

It’s good if you can keep the country at peace and the economy in rosy health – as Bill Clinton did – but less good if you let that get overshadowed by personal indiscipline, as he did.

Finally, in the modern era, the president needs a compelling personal story, great charisma and as much screen presence as a movie star.

As I discovered making “President Hollywood”, the demands of Washington DC and Tinsel Town are remarkably similar.

Which man matches up to this impossible checklist, Barack Obama or John McCain? Well, the American people will decide that on 4 November.

But they had better get used to one thing right away: the president with every one of these essential qualities simply does not exist.

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September 5, 2008

McCain vows to fight to change US

McCain vows to fight to change US

John McCain has accepted the Republican Party’s candidacy for the White House in a speech to cheering supporters at the party’s national convention.

He vowed to bring change to government, restore the people’s trust in the party and to fight for a better nation.

Praising his running mate Sarah Palin, he said she was the right person to help him bring change to Washington.

The Arizona senator said he respected Democratic rival Barack Obama and would seek a bipartisan approach to politics.

Presenting himself once again as a maverick, he pledged to fight corruption, whether Democratic or Republican, and make sure that he worked for the good of the American people.

“Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: change is coming,” Mr McCain told the crowds in St Paul, Minnesota.

Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed
John McCain

In a criticism of his own party, he said he would “fight to restore the pride and principles” of the party, damaged after some Republicans gave in to “the temptations of corruption”.

“We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire,” he said. “The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”

Mr McCain then turned to attacking the Democrats over taxes and spending, saying they would seek to raise taxes whereas he would keep them low and cut them where possible.

Going into some policy specifics, he pledged create new jobs, improve education and to reduce a “dangerous dependence on foreign oil” by producing more energy at home, including by drilling new offshore oil wells.

Mr McCain promised to take a bipartisan approach to resolving the nation’s problems, saying: “Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed.

McCAIN’S MOST-USED WORDS
Tag cloud - words used by John McCain

“That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again.

“I have that record and the scars to prove it. Barack Obama does not.”

After speaking of the five years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and how that experience had inspired his love of his country, he called on his fellow Americans to fight with him to make it a better one.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”

The almost hour-long speech, which ended in the traditional shower of confetti and red, white and blue balloons, brought to a close the party’s four-day event.

‘Tested and true’

Mr McCain’s speech was measured and entirely lacking in the sarcasm and vitriol which have been levelled at Mr Obama over the past couple of nights.

He said he hated war and would use all America’s tools – diplomatic, military and economic – to build what he called a stable and enduring peace, as well as shaking up Washington and including Democrats and independents in a McCain administration.

Cindy McCain with sons Jimmy, left, and Jack, 4 Sept

Mrs McCain praised her husband as a great father and devoted American

It was all a rather different tone to the Republican politics of the past eight years, and to many of the other speakers at this Republican convention, our correspondent says.

There was very little of President George W Bush in this speech, our correspondent adds, as Mr McCain tries to show that he is his own man and can signify a break with the Bush years.

Mr McCain’s wife, Cindy, in her speech praised her husband’s family values, strength of character, war service and leadership.

“If Americans want straight talk and the plain truth, they should take a good close look at John McCain… a man tested and true, who’s never wavered in his devotion to our country,” she said, after arriving on stage flanked by their seven children.

Her speech followed the convention’s formal nomination of Mrs Palin – the Republican Party’s first female vice-presidential candidate.

Mrs Palin becomes only the second woman, the first being Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, to run for the US vice-presidency.

‘Integrity and courage’

Speaking ahead of Mr McCain’s address, senior Republicans praised his courage and leadership.

Justin Webb
I have to say, from my vantage point next to the DC delegation, my overall impression was that the audience in the hall were disappointed
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, at one point hotly tipped to be Mr McCain’s running mate choice, described the Arizona senator’s life as “a testimony to service, duty, courage and common sense”.

“In this time, we don’t need a president who can just read a poll or momentarily thrill a crowd. We don’t need rhetoric or empty promises,” he said.

“We need a president who has the integrity and courage to make the tough choices so America will be stronger and safer.”

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham hailed Mr McCain’s determination to back the Bush administration’s “surge” strategy in Iraq despite the political risks.

HAVE YOUR SAY

McCain is an experienced person and his speech impressed me

Hariprasad Bhusal, India

He introduced a video presenting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a “maverick” moose-hunter from Alaska who was joining “the original maverick” Mr McCain to bring change to Washington politics.

In a well-received speech on Wednesday, Mrs Palin praised Mr McCain and attacked Mr Obama as having talked of change, but done nothing of substance.

President George W Bush has also strongly endorsed John McCain as the best man to succeed him in the White House.

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