What Makes a Good President?

I can say with conviction that I am glad presidential politics are over for a while. Facebook has calmed down, Twitter is not so abuzz, and one can actually take a deep breath for a few days without feeling like a six-year old on the school playground. I supported Donald Trump in his first run for president, but I didn’t support him because I thought he would make a “good” president. I supported him because he was different. I thought that, as a country, we were at a time and place where different would be good. I thought that if Donald Trump did not do anything else, he may convince some “qualified” people that they, too, could win the presidency. I hoped that Donald Trump would get more people involved, get more people to the polls, maybe even get more people to take an active interest in this country’s national politics. I think my hopes were granted on some levels; however, be careful what you hope for.

After Donald Trump secured the nomination for the 2016 election, I completed a questionnaire online to volunteer in his election campaign in some way. I was contacted by a Republican organizer in Ohio, where I lived at the time, and we met to discuss what role I could play. This organizer was a mid to late 20’s female college graduate. During the course of our discussion, I asked her why she liked Donald Trump. She stated she was not sure she did, but she knew what the other side looked like, and she didn’t like what she saw. I think this comment fit a lot of us in 2016. 

One of the major social media themes at the time was that Donald Trump was not qualified to be president. This seemed to be based on the fact that he had no prior political experience. Clearly, he did not, but what does qualify someone to be president? Article II, Section I, of the United States Constitution states that, “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of the President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years Resident with the United States.” From this one can deduce that any other “qualifications” reside exclusively in the mind of the individual voter. 

If you, as an individual, believe the president should have extensive political experience, then that is one of yourrequirements. If, in fact, you believe the president should have extensive political experience, then Senators Patrick Leahy and Mitch McConnell are eminently qualified to be president. But if you are of the mindset that there should be term limits, then these same long-standing senators are eminently unqualified. Is a requirement of yours that the president should have “some” political experience? Now there is a very definitive term. Barack Obama was in congress less than one term. Was that enough? Ronald Reagan was a two-term governor of California, and Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia for five years. Were either of those timeframes long enough? Is it a requirement of yours that the president be a veteran? If that’s the case, FDR was not qualified to be elected president four times; and neither were Donald Trump, Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton were qualified to be president. One of the Democratic talking points about Donald Trump was that he was divorced. Is one of your requirements that the president be of good moral character? If so, this clearly disqualifies John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. There is more than ample evidence to support both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s cocaine use; should this activity be a disqualifying personal trait? Is one of your requirements that the president demonstrate sound fiscal practices? The U.S. government ran a deficit every year between 1970 and 1997, and from 1999 to 2020. This suggests that every president for the last 50 years, except Bill Clinton for one year, has not been qualified. By the way, the last time the federal budget balanced was when Bill Clinton was president even though the House and the Senate both were controlled by Republicans.  

Once you have decided what qualifications you think the president should possess, how do you determine what makes a good president? Are being “qualified” and being “good” the same thing? Academic historians and political scientists have identified Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Washington as the highest-rated presidents. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are often rated among the greatest in public opinion polls, but they do not make the top ten among presidential scholars and historians. The 2020 presidential election results indicate that there were in excess of 81 million voters who believed that Joe Biden would make a good President (or, maybe, that he would make a better president than Donald Trump), and there were in excess of 74 million voters who believed that Donald Trump would make a good president (again, or maybe it was that he would make a better president than Joe Biden). It just seems to me that many, if not most, voters are one-issue voters. Whether it is crime, gun control, taxes, the environment, LBGT, education or whatever, the candidate who supports their issue is qualified to be a “good” president. 

So gentle reader, the bottom line of what makes a president great is also what makes a president qualified. It is in the opinion of the beholder, and as we are all well aware, opinions are like rear ends: everybody has one, they are all different, and if it’s not yours . . . .

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