Relax, Americans: The President Will Be A Good Man…Whoever He Is.

The good guys.

The degree of anxiety over today’s Presidential election—perhaps more accurate than anxiety is hysteria—is palpable. It is also unnecessary and foolish. I have read the fevered rantings of Andrew Sullivan, who fears Mitt Romney like the Germans feared the invading Russian army at the end of World War II, and the apocalyptic monologues of conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin, who is prone to statements like, “It’s over, that’s all! Do you understand? If Obama wins, this country is never coming back!” I have watched both parties exploit and encourage this kind of irrational fear, and its by-products, predictably, are hate, division and anger. There was a time in America when political adversaries referred to each other as “my honorable opponent.” The candidates were not more honorable then. We were more sensible.

The history of the United States has shown that very few truly bad men have the opportunity to run for President. It makes sense, if you give it a modicum of thought. A Presidential contender must negotiate the perils of life for at least four decades without accumulating damning evidence of disqualifying character traits and malign intent. The candidate must have shown sufficient ability and character to impress those he worked with and owed duties to. Most of all, a potential President must have been able to engender a sufficient amount of trust over more than half of his natural life.

We should not judge political leaders by the same standards as other professionals, because the nature of politics, by definition, is ethically ambiguous. Politics knows only one ethical system: utilitarianism. The practice of governing and making human progress advance in the civic arena rules out absolute principles, and requires delicate calculations of ends and means. This often appears, to non-practitioners, as corruption, and it certainly can become that. Effective, trustworthy leaders are able to avoid the occupational hazard of believing that the ends necessarily justify the means. If they cannot, they will not have the opportunity to be President.

No doubt, Presidents, like all leaders, are different from the rest of us in significant ways. This makes them difficult to understand and to identify with—a problem, since this democracy has always imagined that the President should understand the common man, or better yet, be one. Leaders aren’t common; that’s why they are leaders. Psychologically, they usually see themselves as unique, and most of them have good reasons to think that. If they were not physical standouts (Washington, Lincoln, Taft), they were intellectually superior (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Garfield, Teddy, Wilson, Kennedy). Many had harrowing survival experiences that left them convinced that they were genuine men of destiny (Washington, the Roosevelts, Jackson, Polk, Eisenhower). Many more had parents who pushed and exhorted them to seek high achievement. Is this a psychologically healthy group? Clearly not. We have had sociopaths, depressives, neurotics and narcissists among our leaders, and keeping those pathologies from turning these men to dark paths has required them to build character, self-knowledge and self-discipline. To a remarkable degree and with some notable failures, they have been able to do so,

Perhaps most of all, taking on the mantle of Washington and Lincoln makes imperfect men better. No one wants to accept the burden of their nation’s hopes and aspirations and betray them, or disgrace the symbolic center of the government. Chester Arthur and Harry Truman were small-time machine politicians who never could have won the job on their own merits. When they became President unexpectedly, elevated by death, both rose to embrace the standard. Being President, in short, makes flawed men good, and can make good men great.

Nothing in the life stories or exploits of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama justify fearing them, or impugning their motives. Like all authentic public servants, they are motivated by a calling, to serve the nation, its ideals, and the American public, and to apply their talents, determination, courage and skill to making the United States strong, prosperous and good. These are the leaders our culture creates and nurtures.

And we owe them our respect and gratitude for their sacrifices, as well as the trust that they will do what they think is right. There is no better day to recall President Theodore Roosevelt’s most famous speech, important  because it conveys the essence of Teddy (my  favorite President), but more so because it captures what is special and admirable about those who achieve the highest office in the land, and the most challenging job on earth:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

——Theodore Roosevelt, in his speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, on April 23, 1910.

29 Comments

Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, U.S. Society

29 responses to “Relax, Americans: The President Will Be A Good Man…Whoever He Is.

  1. Heather Cohen

    This is a very powerful and important message. Thanks for posting.

  2. Elizabeth I

    Jack: A PERFECT post for election day. Too much time (and way too much money and effort) has been spent trying to demonize both candidates. I know how I voted and why, but won’t open my wrists if the other candidate wins. There ARE checks and balances built into the government (though I see these eroding over time), and I do question the overall motives and abilities of one of the candidates. Nevertheless, as a nation we have elected both strong and weak leaders, and have survived. It still remains the spirit of the American people and culture that is most important, not the titular head of their government. I hope my candidate wins, but don’t believe our nation will rise or fall based on the results. The President has a great deal of power, but frankly, can’t (like Putin) declare himself president for life or take over for Congress or the Supreme Court. I’m hoping for the best — my candidate — because we really are a nation in crisis and I’ve made my choice. If it goes the other way, we’ll still get through it. We are a nation with divisive politics, but also of strong individualists, who will go their way and do good things regardless of who happens to sit in the White House.

  3. Speaking as a committed leftist, I am prepared to be in despair whichever candidate wins. :-p

    Seriously, good post.

    Less seriously: When I first glanced on the page, my eye fell on “The history of the United States has shown that very few truly bad men have the opportunity to run for President,” but I misread it as saying “very few truly BALD men.” Which, if that were what you had written, would have made this quite a different essay. But still a correct essay – looking over the lot of them, it’s amazing how few baldies have made it to the top spot.

  4. Is the concern bad men? Or is the concern bad policies that are increasingly entrenched, and a society that is increasingly convinced they don’t have to work for what they earn?

    Hope Atlas doesn’t shrug. I’ve got a baby on the way.

  5. Here’s where we part company, Jack. The last vestiges of the constitutional republic that was America died this night. The rampant indecency of the creature who squats in the White House- along with his degenerate minions- needs no repetition of their infamies from me. One need only review the charges leveled against George III by the Founders and raise them to the fifth power. Now it becomes a matter of resistance. We’ve learned in the course of this election and its aftermath that the inherent depravity of the Northern states and their equally vile Pacific Coast allies knows no boundaries. They are an enemy now who must be destroyed. Either that, or freedom and decency die forever on this continent. I’m now committed to this. Goodbye.

    • Michael Ejercito

      The last vestiges of the constitutional republic that was America died this night. The rampant indecency of the creature who squats in the White House- along with his degenerate minions- needs no repetition of their infamies from me. One need only review the charges leveled against George III by the Founders and raise them to the fifth power. Now it becomes a matter of resistance. We’ve learned in the course of this election and its aftermath that the inherent depravity of the Northern states and their equally vile Pacific Coast allies knows no boundaries.

      Obama is only the symptom of a larger problem. Jack marshall exposed what the real problem is .

      In a normal scenario, the election wouldn’t be close; not with the economic mess, the gridlock on Capitol Hill, Obama’s spectacularly broken promises regarding transparency and avoiding divisiveness, and higher taxes looming. Many factors have insulated Obama from the reasonable consequences of all this. He has a large voting block that is motivated more by group loyalty than self-interest; his cynical divisiveness strategy has been partially successful as an election strategy, though it will have terrible consequences that will plague American society for years to come; the news media has distorted coverage of both the campaign and the issues to an obscene degree in order to boost the President over the goal line; and Americans are naturally reticent to admit that they made a mistake, especially when that mistake made them feel so good at the time

      I will submit that the media’s distorting “coverage of both the campaign and the issues to an obscene degree”

      Well, you know I believe in ethics incompleteness, and that no rule works all the time. There are plenty of factors that could interfere with the normal trend, mainly that the media has effectively obscured just how weak Obama really is by fawning over him. Obama has been an exception before, you know. He’s exceptional, if nothing else.

      If Obama wins, its because the majority of the public thinks he isn’t a weak leader. I’ll credit the press for that, as well as phony leadership creds like the death of Osama

      (In reply to my question about why the press gets credit)
      Kidding, right? The contrast between coverage of Staten Island’s disaster and New Orleans, the press-assisted cover-up on Benghazi, the shrugging off of Fast and Furious, on and on and on. If Bush flew off to a fundraiser after an ambassador had been killed, he would have been crucified.

      And in a close election like this, the press did matter.

      A free press is necessary, but insufficient, for a free republic under the rule of law. Among other things, we also need an honestpress, and the press in general was as honest as William Randolph Hearst was in 1898.

    • Bill

      And you call yourself an a American with such a vile and hateful post like that? If you dont like a free republic like America then leave. You stomp, kick and sfream and make hollow threats when you say:

      “They are an enemy now who must be destroyed. Either that, or freedom and decency die forever on this continent. I’m now committed to this. Goodbye.”

      Youre not going to do a damn thing but bitch , whine and sulk and you know it.

    • Andrew V

      Steven, I believe you may be wildly overestimating how different a Romney Administration would be. The USA is committed to a course that will likely see deepening poverty, greater instability, and more corruption, but it is a truly bipartisan consensus. Obama is simply a symptom, a man who may sincerely wish to be good, but is at the bidding of single-issue ideologues who would rather drive the nation off a cliff than compromise on their single pet issue. Also, as someone from the Depraved Northeast, I can tell you that my neighbors here are all decent human beings who, like everyone else in the United States, can at most be accused of stupidity or selfishness rather than malice.

    • “Goodbye?” Jeez, where are you going? You’re scaring me…

      • Who are YOU saying goodbye to? I have this horrible vision of Ethics Alarms reader’s leaping off a cliff like Disney’s lemmings.

        • My “goodbye” was directed at SMP; just got out of sequence. I am glad to see him go, but am afraid he is going off to join his paranoid friends to foment some kind of revolution–which would be ironic since he pushed the meme that blacks were going to riot if Obama won.

          • You might wanna double check your research on that. I’m pretty sure it was certain Obama supporters actually pushing that ‘meme’. However, despite Obama’s reelection it seems most radical, riotous, revolutionary Republicans headed to work the next day.

            As for my friends and I, jumping out of our bedroom windows was fortunately averted living in single story homes. Naturally our disgust inevitably subsided and we accepted that the average American is not ready to re-accept that national fiscal responsibility and individual self-reliance is the ONLY route to liberty and equality.

            • janpchapman

              I would ask you which Obama supporters were pushing the “meme.” Please provide a link. I am one, and I heard nothing of it. There are extremists in both camps. The fact is, the majority of Americans decided that we are slowly but surely on the path to recovering from the mess we were in when Obama took office. A mess, I might add, that both Republicans and Democrats created, and a mess for which both Republican and Democrats must provide a solution.

              • I agree with you, Jan, all the way. Though I don’t see how and why anyone would say that the true economic mess is improving, in the absence of a plan to deal with the increasing debt or the national will to implement it. I don’t agree with the Bill O’Reilly take that the election was a statement by a majority of Americans that they want as much free “stuff” from the government as possible until the cash runs out, the bill become due and the system crashes. But were such voters the deciding factor? Could be.

                • janpchapman

                  I don’t believe Obama was elected by people who want a bunch of free stuff, either. In fact, most of the free stuff goes to the states that elected Romney. Obama was elected by a coalition of Blacks, Hispanics, women and educated white people. For many of these people, the debt and the deficit take a back seat to surviving day to day. I barely understand it, and I have a college education and time to try.

                  Now that we have elected him, it is my responsibility to make sure that he, the House and the Senate address the debt/deficit issue without making these people’s lives more difficult than they already are.

                • Though I don’t see how and why anyone would say that the true economic mess is improving, in the absence of a plan to deal with the increasing debt or the national will to implement it.

                  Actually, if the deadlock in congress leads to the so-called “fiscal cliff” happen (it’s really more of a fiscal steep hillside), that will wipe out virtually all of the annual deficit in one swoop. Will that be a good thing, in your view? If the debt really is the only economic number that matters, you should be very pro-fiscal-cliff.

                  The economy is in much better shape than it has been since the recession took hold – look at growth, look at unemployment. These have been standard numbers that people of both parties have considered when weighting economic health for many decades.

                  The economy’s still too weak, and the debt is a long-term problem. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only economic figure we should look at, or that we should deny the obvious improvements that are happening.

                  • Well, eliminating the deficit doesn’t do a thing for the existing debt. Nor does the “cliff” fully eliminate the deficit. It would lead to a recession, and probably another fake “stimulus.” Lots of people would lose jobs; tax revue would be way off. Indiscriminate cutting is terrible management, always. But pushing tough decisions down the road indefinitely only has one certain result. I think at this point the debt is the biggest problem. Not the only one.

          • I hope he’s not really gone, Jan, because I cherish the wide spectrum of passionate beliefs and value priorities here. I am proud of the fact that I can get beat up by you and Barry AND Steven and Arthur in the same day, and sometimes over the same post. If nothing else, it gives me perspective, and though I’m sure it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, it makes a difference in my ability to see the nuances and angles in tough issues. (I do think that there would have been some riots if Obama lost—Twitter pointed to that pretty clearly. And there was at least one riot at a college yesterday over Obama winning. In Texas. SMP lives in Texas…you don’t think….?)

            • I too, hope he’s not gone, for much the same reasons as you explain. It was just about a year ago today, when I began following this blog. I have learned so much from so many who speak up here, I feel a debt of gratitude that I could not possibly pay back.

              The picture of the anti-Obama “riot” that I saw was from a campus in Mississippi – haven’t seen any such thing from Texas. I also saw where a church was vandalized in Maine, evidently related to the same-sex marriage vote there.

              • Eeyoure, the word “evidently” implies that there’s some evidence that the vandals were striking the church because of the same-sex marriage issue. As far as I know, there is no evidence at all for that conclusion.

                The sad truth is, churches have been getting vandalized by as****les for decades before the same-sex marriage issue came up. Maybe these particular jerks were motivated by marriage. Or maybe they were from a rival church. Or maybe they were atheists. Or maybe they were just 16 years old, drunk, and looking to be destructive. We really don’t know.

                Oh, and that anti-Obama college “riot” doesn’t really seem to have been a riot – more like a angry demonstration. All these folks did was chant and wave their arms and yell out racist words.

                • @&, my understanding about the church in Maine is that the congregation somehow identified itself publicly as opposed to same-sex marriage (and/or to the ballot measure on the same). That understanding (which could be wrong, of course), combined with the timing and other characteristics of the vandalism (such as a swastika), are sufficient for suspicion about the motive to be reasonable enough for someone to say “evidently” like I did.

                  The anti-Obama event in Mississippi was reported with a still image of someone burning an Obama campaign sign; racist speech may have been part of that too, but I don’t know. Still, based on the report I think it is reasonable not to suspect that there was a riot, despite the burning sign, so that’s why I put the word in quotes, like you did.

            • Sorry, but he made me very uneasy. Calling the President “the creature who squats in the White House- along with his degenerate minions” is a bit too far. I thought the riot was in Mississippi–was there another one? If it was in Texas, yes I DO think.

              I don’t doubt there would be some violence if Obama had lost–especially given the voting problems people had, especially in Florida. To imply that there was some organized plan to riot was absurd, whichever side was accused of it. Louis Farrakhan implied the same thing about whites, and I think it is reprehensible. Almost like the person making the accusation wants it to happen.

  6. Following is my “post-game” analysis. I am saying all that follows with tongue a little over halfway in cheek. The 2012 presidential election results are easily explainable, using – what else? – modern conventional wisdom.

    U.S. presidential candidates do not win, or lose, because they are winners or losers. The simple, scientific explanation of presidential victories and defeats is that they occur because of evil people – evil others. (It’s always someone else’s, the other’s, the fool’s, fault.)

    By now, all of us good, normal people who vote in an informed manner know the following.

    If Barack Obama had not been re-elected, it obviously would have been because of his undeserved opposition and victimization by:
    (1) white racists, particularly white racist women, plus white male haters of women;
    (2) rich financiers of massive fraud and deception of voters, and
    (3) various nut jobs such as evangelical Christians, [pick-your-favorite]-phobes, “teabaggers,” and conservative dittohead zombies.

    But Obama was re-elected. Therefore, just as obviously, he was re-elected because Mitt Romney, Obama’s chief contender, was undeservedly victimized and voted against by:
    (1) darker-skinned racists, particularly blacks and Latinos;
    (2) dysfunctional women, including otherwise “all-Fluked-up” women, who would rather vote for the liar they know well instead of the liar they don’t know as well (as long as it’s guys like white ambassadors and former Navy SEALs who get killed instead of pregnant gals), and
    (3) various nut jobs such as “occupiers,” eat-grass-naked environmentalists, prisoners, drug addicts, perverts, and “economists” like Paul Krugman and his intellectual peers (and lessers).

    Of course, those voter groups identified above are not all the relevant groups. I could have said more about, for example, the massive coalition of voters that has become the obvious foil to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) “party” activists. I am referring to the TUMP “party” (Tax Us More, PLEASE!), the TOMOE “party” (Tax Others More, Or Else!), and the SALM-ists and BALM-ists (Spend/Borrow A LOT More). But just as obviously, I could not possibly be justified in citing “rich financiers of massive fraud and deception of voters” among the victimizers of Mitt Romney. There is no room here for sour grapes or hypocrisy.

    Likewise, our elected leaders’ future successes or failures will be entirely dependent on the evil others who succeed or fail in obstructing the leaders. The wisdom or foolishness of what the leaders may propose, advocate or otherwise support will be irrelevant.

    In sum, the 2012 presidential elections confirm SSDD and promise MOTSOS.

  7. buna ziua eu vreau la muncii un cuvant secret pentru de la universitatea terra eu stie special toti importanta pamant. daca poti ajuta pe mine te rog eu acum stau aici acasa la tara si am gandesc mereu google internetul ok scuze- ma sunt surzii ok domnule president

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