I’m putting together a return to the energy question I first addressed in May, but first I feel the need to qualify what I said about a certain two candidates last night. Some of it was the fact the debates are hot topics at all.
I refused to watch the first debate, for a variety of reasons. Some are prejudices, that I will get into at a later time. But I also have objective reasons to refuse to watch these men speak. The most significant is that I have no idea why being a great public speaker and being able to think on one’s feet quickly have any connection with the qualities required to be a good chief executive. Domestically, the presidency basically handles what the legislature permits the executive branch to manage. Congress can affirm or overrule executive regulations by passing legislation to permanently set a standard policy. Since the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act was passed in 1974, Congress has taken sole control of the power of the purse. Congress can amend the Constitution, with or without the president’s approval (a constitutional amendment is not subject to the veto). The presidency’s role in my view is to thread the needle–finding common ground with Congress when possible and exploiting loopholes when common ground disappears. Being quick-witted and/or argumentative seem to me to be disqualifying qualities for the national chief executive here–careful consideration and the ability to cajole seem to be in order.
Foreign policy seems to be the true purpose of the presidency, as the executive is empowered as head of state. Here the useful qualities are an ability to arrive at an adequate decision when experts around the chief executive disagree, with the understanding that the experts know far more than the president and there isn’t an option to draw on personal experience (i.e.: go your own way). The foreign policy debate hasn’t occurred yet, but I’m certain the debate won’t demonstrate which candidate can function better with little sleep while being barraged with information he cannot fully understand and being asked to make a decision right now. Considering the Oval Office seems to attract an incredible amount of deference to the man sitting behind the desk and his advisers tend to become sycophants, I have trouble understanding how anyone can do this job effectively.
The media seems obsessed with the “explainer-in-chief” paradigm they have come to expect at least since the time of the so-called Great Communicator. I’m absolutely tired of this, as I believe this is simply judgment of results. The two important qualities here are good fortune or honesty in the face of bad fortune. With good fortune, a president seems to be judged well regardless of the circumstances. Without it, the executive branch needs to be forthrightly honest or the game is up.
Even then, Americans are pragmatic at the core–they require some results. If the sitting president cannot engineer good results or the environment is poisoned, he’s toast. For example history isn’t kind to James Buchanan for failing to address slavery in his term before Lincoln, but that verdict smacks of corrupted hindsight. Several states seceded after the 1860 election but prior to Lincoln taking office–in other words, because of the election. Even with all that, the American public did not permit Lincoln to respond until Beauregard started firing on Fort Sumter a month into Lincoln’s term.
The Republican nominee “winning” a debate tells me absolutely nothing, except if either adversary had something new substantively to say. I noticed a few things from the transcripts, and I think it all reflects poorly on both candidates.