Opinion: Thinking ahead to 2024
Midterm elections are still a half year away, but it’s not too early to start thinking about a presidential candidate for 2024. We need to start now because 2024 may be our opportunity to return our nation to true leadership. And that will take a statesman or stateswoman, not a slogan.
We don’t need to “Make American Great Again” because this country never stopped being great. Nor do we need to “Build Back Better” because our more-than-two-hundred-year-old country is continually building and rebuilding. Sometimes that effort is historic, like the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the massive projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the building of our great dams, the establishment of the interstate highway system, or the launching of a space station. But most times, it just involves mundane projects, like replacing old roads with new freeways, trading small buildings for new high-rise edifices, or supplementing established gas pumps with charging stations for electric vehicles. Those are things that are best left to engineers, technicians, and the country’s skilled workforce.
What we need in the White House is a person who can represent us to the rest of the world without bumbling nonsense off the top of his or her head or stumbling over the words on a teleprompter. During the founding days, we had people like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun. A few, like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln actually became President of the United States.
Other countries have or have had strong and eloquent women fill these roles, like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Angela Merkel in Germany, and Indira Gandhi in India. The United States, too, has had great stateswomen, like Abigale Adams or Jane Addams, neither of whom even had the right to vote in pre-1920 America.
Surely, we still have people of vision and eloquence who can represent us. Unfortunately, we don’t see them rising to prominence in Congress or even state offices. Perhaps that’s because such positions have devolved to the approximate status of court jester of earlier times.
When I see members of Congress screaming at each other or even members of local boards having to take abuse from citizens who may disagree with a decision, I understand why a considerate person may decline to aspire to an elected position. The treatment of Dr. Anthony Fauci is a puzzling example. Since the beginning of the current pandemic, he has been trying to save lives, yet he has had to suffer the most extreme abuse, including death threats.
I’m not sure just when politics was reduced to the status of a reality TV show, but I suspect that it was sometime during the Cold War when school children had to learn the absurd practice of getting under their desks in the event that an atomic bomb might be dropped on the country and prosperous adults built underground bomb shelters. French existentialists exploited the absurdities of life, and the nuclear-arms race was a prime example.
Once the Cold War ended, “serious” politics became a thing of the past. A little more than two decades ago, while I was executive director of the California Sociological Association, my organization held its annual meetings in Sacramento. Because we met in the state capital, I contacted Dan Walters to ask if he’d be our keynote speaker. Mr. Walters has been observing California politics for six decades and has written more than 10,000 newspaper columns about the Golden State and its various political representatives. He accepted.
After giving a talk which was both informative and entertaining, he opened the floor to questions. One of our members asked, “Mr. Walters, have you ever considered running for political office, yourself.”
Without hesitation, Walters responded, “Let me answer your question with a question of my own. Would you rather be the entomologist or the bug that he or she is observing.” There was light laughter. He continued, “Or, perhaps more to the point, would you rather be the proctologist….” If he finished the sentence, the laughter drowned out his words.
I don’t know when we, the collective public, became so cynical about politics and politicians, but once such cynicism sets in, it’s difficult overcome.
Both our current president and his predecessor stumble about on the world stage, and neither approximates the statesmanship of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Dwight David Eisenhower. Ronald Reagan projected the right image, but he lacked the knowledge and experience required by the office. However, he had the good sense to rely on the experts in government service and to read the statements that were handed to him by professional script writers. You may not have agreed with one, some, or all of these former presidents, but you, your parents, or your grandparents respected them.
I don’t care if a Democrat or a Republican wins the next presidential election. Frankly, partisan politics have become so divisive and unsettling that neither party holds any attraction for me, and I’ve been registered in both at one time or another. It is an unfortunate truth that no third party will ever be successful at the national level because of our electoral-college system. The last third-party candidate to get even a single electoral-college vote was segregationist George Wallace in 1968. He got 46 votes; 270 is needed to win.
In elementary school, we’re taught that anyone can become president of the United States. That’s a lie. It was a lie when I was in school. And as long as it is an absolute necessity to be able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for campaign expenses, it will always be a lie. That throws another monkey wrench into our system.
Billionaires and lobbyists for billion-dollar industries have access to candidates that neither you nor I will ever experience. These people don’t have to dictate a campaign platform or tell an official how to vote once she or he is elected. However, because of their monetary contributions and the money that will be needed for the next election, they get to “explain” why their cause or product or political ideal would be best for the nation. Just being able to whisper the right words into the right ears is all it takes to direct the course of our “democracy.”
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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.