Monday, December 12, 2011

Attention: The job opening is for POTUS. Dilettantes need not apply.

When I was a little girl during FDR's time, I remember people in my family talking in hushed, reverent tones about the President of the United States --  as if he were someone so special you mustn't use your normal, everyday voice.  I grew up thinking there was no one in our beloved country who could top the President when it came to being all-wise and all-caring.  I believed that there was something other-worldly, even God-like about Presidents, and I felt safe.

I came of age in the 1950s, in the midst of the McCarthy witch hunts, and all childish notions about the government as citizen protector flew right off the newborn TV screen and into the wild blue yonder.  The Army-McCarthy hearings were televised live, and for the first time in my life I knew real, hair-raising fear.  I understood then the latent, potentially evil power of the government and it terrified me.  Eisenhower was president, and, while my concern over his seeming disengagement from the whole vile circus nearly got the best of me, it didn't deter me from my original thoughts about the presidency in general.

There is the president and then there is the presidency.  One is fleeting, the other is our most cherished institution.

I've worked my way through many presidents since then and even the worst of them haven't been able to move me away from that belief.  We have certain built-in expectations of our presidents, tempered always with the recognition that they're only human.  They will not always do our bidding.  They will often make mistakes.  They will sometimes fail in the most spectacular fashion.  But the underlying hope is that when they wake up every morning in the White House -- the house on loan to them by the people -- they'll remember who they're supposed to be and resolve at the very least to do no lasting harm.

But what I'm seeing now is that venerable institution moving further and further away from any kind of special honor and more and more into celebrity/CEO status.  It is no longer cherished, no longer looked on as both a rare privilege and a breathtaking responsibility.  For proof, take a hard look at the Republican Party's current lineup of  potential presidential nominees.  Unless something major happens, the president's opponent will be one of these frontrunners:  Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, or Michelle Bachmann.  

Look deeper: There is not a serious candidate among them.  They make it understood that they want to be known as presidential without the annoying duties historically relegated to the presidency.  "Duties" is the one word in the job description that gives them the most grief, and the one they're each aiming to adjust once they're in office.  What I'm getting from their debate discussions is that they're falling all over themselves to see who can diminish the office of the presidency the fastest. (The possible exception might be Mitt Romney, but he's keeping mum, waiting to see which way the wind will blow.)

 I don't know.  If one cared, one might want to pass along to them that this is not your ordinary CEO gig.  Yes, there may be some question about whether the President of the United States is still looked on as the leader of the free world, but there's no argument that he (and someday, she) is the sole keeper of the Executive branch of our government.  When you have a country the size of ours (over 300 million people spread out over almost four million square miles) mired in unnatural disasters of epic proportions,  the last thing any serious candidate for the highest government office in the land should be advocating is an end to government interference.  Yet in the course of some 16 debates so far, that seems to be the recurrent theme.  It's as if, in all the grand hoopla, they've forgotten just which job they've applied for.

If they talk at all about joblessness, homelessness, uncovered illnesses, or any other deliberate misery cast upon certain segments of the 99%, it's to place the blame for such predicaments squarely on either the existing governmental busybodies or on the millions of affected people who have the gall to think they're the victims here.  Their fix is to turn the country over to God and the private sector -- neither of which, it should be pointed out, the president will have any control over if their dearest wishes come true.

Their goal, the destruction of a central government, is one that no president before them would have considered, even in the wildest wanderings of their most vivid imaginations.  It's not the kind of remedy past seekers of the office were inclined to entertain.

On the other hand, it's exactly the kind of thing we came to expect from someone like Herman Cain, a guy with way too much money and ego,  a guy who only just wanted to sell his book and thought the way to do it would be to run for, Holy Pokemon!  President!  Of the United States!

But okay, this did not get past me:  Through no great feat of his own, and despite gaffes that might suggest "astonishingly bad comedian" rather than "honorable POTUS",  Cain rose to the top of the GOP nominees list and stayed there for a frightfully long time before toppling.  That means there are a whole lot of people out there who just aren't getting what I'm saying here.

That is just painful.


  1. I too grew up during the FDR administration, and like you, I revered him and felt safe when he spoke. My father had voted in each of his elections for his opponent, and I felt troubled that he didn't feel as I did. The first time I voted was in 1948, and I stayed awake listening to the radio coverage until I heard that Truman had won. So, my views of the ensuing Presidents have been of disappointment in their inadequacy. Not until JFK did I feel the same about a President as I had felt about FDR...I agree that the clowns behind the podium are not fit for the office they seek, have not the humanity or the intelligence for the job.Though Obama has made mistakes in his first term, they were made on the side of human empathy and careful consideration and I believe that the progress he has made is admirable. Should he have addressed the problem of joblessness before he tackled health care, and while he still had a marginal majority in the Senate? I believe he should have, but he did not expect the hatred and obnoxious response he got from those with whom he attempted compromise. He thought they were honest and wanted the best for the country. He was wrong. I might have been a little older than you were, because I remember hearing ugly references to FDR on the radio...he was almost as hated as is Barack Obama, and he wasn't even black.

  2. I was born four minutes before Eisenhower took his second oath of office, but the first president I was ever really aware of was JFK (my first public act of reading was the headline that Kennedy had won the Democratic nomination; I was three and a half in the days before Sesame Street). His successors, Johnson and Nixon, proved deceitful in matters related to Vietnam and official conduct. Like you, I feel as if I am a member of the last generation who ever in their lives had the feeling that we could trust our elected officials and that the president was someone deserving of our respect and support.

  3. This is a very good post. Thank you.

  4. Glad to have you weigh in, Kitti. I was hoping it wasn't just my imagination that, as a nation, we took the presidency more seriously way back then. We've seen some odd candidates before (Wallace, Perot, David Duke) but this Republican bunch really takes the cake. If it wasn't so funny it would be downright scary.

    Eric, I had to laugh at your "first public act of reading" at 3 1/2. Precocious! I don't know what's going on anymore, but maybe it just comes down to who in their right mind would want to be president today?

    Thanks, Anon. And welcome.

  5. I think the GOP, starting with Reagan, decided that the Presidency was not a serious position with real power, but the job for a salesman. GWB defined the job as simply a bipolar lightswitch--ON/OFF--the deciderer. Dems sill look for competence, vision, and expect the President to have ideas and comprehension. At least relatively. So--in my view--the clown show on the GOP side is actually a contest for the office as the GOP understands it. All this follows from the fact that the GOP distrusts and distains democracy--thus all the new state laws aimed at disenfranchising voters.

  6. My first election was Eisenhower's first - I was in 5th grade in a political (old style republican) family that talked politics over dinner - remember conversations without tv?

    I was brought up to believe it was better to be dead than red - and have evolved to be close to a screaming liberal.

    I too remember we used to have presidents we had respect for, even when we disagreed with them. I remember when campaigns weren't mud slinging fests and I remember when corporations weren't considered people and couldn't throw unlimited money into whatever campaign would help them make the most profit.

    I fear for my grand kids... and for the planet and am shocked at how often I'm actually embarrassed to be an American these days.

    Meanwhile I sign more petitions, contribute where and when I can and hope.

    Thanks for this.

  7. Fiddlin' Bill, the Right's efforts to stop voters from voting seem just insane in a democracy, but they're working hard to destroy anything resembling a democracy so I guess it's not so odd. The fact that they can convince so many people of the rightness of their Right Wing madness is truly odd. It's what keeps us doing what we're doing. We just have to outshout them and outlast them. I'm game if everyone else is.

  8. Anne, you're right. For our grandkids' sake we have to keep working at it. Seems to me I do remember reasonable Republicans, and it sounds like your family might have been in that minority?

    Thanks for commenting here. I've been following your writing for a long time and appreciate that you took the time to come over here and join in.

    I just read your piece on procrastinating and yes, I can relate! I do like to change where I'm writing but it's getting harder and harder to concentrate with distractions. I have a hard time working in a public place, but I always carry a notebook, just in case. Drinking more water is a new one, and one I'll try.

    I'm an expert at procrastinating, and worked best when I had an editorial deadline. Now I often have to push myself to get two posts out a week, but the best way to start is, as you said, just to start. One sentence at a time.

    I'm including the link to your post for anyone else who needs a little push:

  9. Ramona, this is an outstanding post - and hello by way of Eclectablog.

    I'm not old enough to remember FDR, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, or even Carter, but I can read a lot of history about them, and from everything I've read, I can see a marked difference even from the way even Nixon handled the Presidency to how Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II have handled things.

    It is utterly disgusting how our political process has degenerated into little more than namecalling, childish bullying, and schoolyard antics than actual governance, and the way in which our elected representatives behave is scarcely better than poorly-reared children at this point.

  10. Welcome, Crying Liberty. And thanks for mentioning Eclectablog. Chris does a superb job of trying to keep 'em honest in Michigan.

    I'm ever the optimist (well, maybe not ever!) so I'm hoping 2012 will be the year everyone will come to their senses and finally work at really, truly rebuilding this wreckage of a once-proud country.

    Making sure we elect leaders who are actually grown-ups would be a start.

  11. I'm already experiencing a bit of voter fatigue with these Repub candidates. I chalk it up to having a stupidity threshold. I can only take so much, and these yahoos have given me my fill. At least the end is in sight. We should ditch at least a couple of them after Iowa.

  12. Ha ha, Beth. This may go down in history as the most embarrassing candidate roster in the history of the U.S. What a bunch. I would laugh a lot except I know what's coming: Millions of Republicans will pretend that what they have there is star material and they'll actually vote for them.

    It's a crazy world when the very people who are already getting shafted the most by those nuts will forget everything and side with them against the ones who actually might do something good.

    Heaven forbid anyone actually suggests working FOR the people instead of against them.


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