What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my (who-knows-how-many-parts) series:

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part Two

Today’s post covers some of the qualities I want in a president and a few of the broad issues that impact many of the more specific, controversial ones. (And which, because they’re so broad, are perhaps the least well-connected to Church teaching on public policy matters. Be forewarned, Catholics: this one’s all me.)

For an introduction of the series and an explanation of how my Catholic faith has influenced my political outlook, please see Part One.

For discussions on some of those specific, controversial (and perhaps more interesting) issues, please come back tomorrow for Part Three.

But for today:

(I Consider Myself) Pragmatic on the Boring Basics

When I think about the qualities I want in a president, of course I want someone who’s intelligent, just, honest, deliberative, decisive, articulate, persuasive, and plain ol’ good.

That goes without saying, really.

But this year, given our current set of political realities, I’m also looking for a few more particular qualities in a presidential candidate:

  • I want one to whom bipartisanship is not a dirty word – one who refrains from demonizing those he disagrees with and who understands the political necessity of working with members of the other party.
  • I want one with substantial political experience.
  • I want one who is forward-thinking – one who is more interested in long-term, real solutions than temporary fixes.

Now let’s go down that list.

Bipartisanship. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest elephant in the room of national politics is the disdain with which the president and members of Congress regard members of the opposite party. Not to mention the disdain shown by Average Joes on the (physical and virtual) street!

I’m so weary of it.

I’m not the kind of impractical idealist who thinks that everyone ought to just start getting along, already – maybe join hands and sing a verse or two of Kumbaya. I know that there are real, important differences in our policy positions and political aims. I know that there was no golden age of bipartisan cooperation in Washington. And I know that some eras were much worse than our own. (Involving, for instance, actual, physical brawls on the floor of Congress.)

But I wish voters would stop rewarding politicians who make their names by bashing the other side into the ground. Such behavior is juvenile and unproductive and (worse yet) damaging to our democracy.

I also wish people would stop assuming the worst of each other. Few people are so selfish, so mean-spirited as to actively pursue an agenda that sets out to harm everybody else. No — people really, truly have different ideas as to what government should be doing and which policies help people the most. Let’s disagree. Let’s have good debates on which policies make the most sense. But let’s not assume that those who disagree with us mean to do ill.

In short, I want a president who acts like a grown-up in his relations with other politicians. I want one who refrains from demonizing those he disagrees with and who understands the political necessity of working with members of both parties.

Experience. I want a president who has actually had some practice in doing the above.

I want someone who’s shown that he can navigate the treacherous path of legislating and governing: someone who has had substantial experience in the political meat grinder, who’s shown that he can achieve legislative/policy successes, and preferably one who comes from a politically divided state. (Hello Ohio, Florida, and Michigan!) I worry that a candidate from a more lopsidedly-Republican or Democratic state will be ill-equipped to deal with a divided Washington.

I do not want a presidential candidate who is new to politics. It is hard to get legislation passed and to govern effectively, and I don’t think we should assume that any ol’ admirable person can pull it off.

Selfishly, perhaps, I especially don’t want a Republican candidate who’s a novice to politics – I think the last thing the Republican Party needs is a president who’s fresh meat to the opposition. (Sorry, Mr. Carson and Ms. Fiorina. Sorry-not-sorry, Mr. Trump.)

(By the way, I think inexperience was a large part of why President Obama had such a hard time in his first term: he was a one-term senator from an overwhelmingly liberal state. He simply wasn’t equipped to work effectively in Washington.)

I also have no interest in a guy (or gal) who proclaims his intention to go in and change Washington! Because that’s a load of nonsense – the president is going to land where he lands, and he can’t change the landscape. All he can do is try to find his way through it.

Long-term thinking. One of my biggest gripes about politicians lately – and really, the public who feeds them – is that they function in the short-term. Almost all the time.

Everything is about the next election cycle or the next budget extension or the projected amount of cash to be shelled out in the next five years. There’s (little to) no long-term planning.

But as any responsible adult will tell you regarding their private affairs (saving for the down payment, retirement, home repair, college) – it pays to think about the future.

Yet we don’t ask our politicians to think about it. We’re content to let our infrastructure crumble if it means we stick with a lower gas tax. We attempt military interventions with as little force and expense as possible, preferring to serve as a prop rather than a means to a solution. We agree to only the bare minimum of social supports, which trap people in poverty rather than enabling them to escape it.

I want a president who is more forward-thinking than that, one who is more interested in long-term, real solutions than temporary fixes.

Moving on, now, to two broad issues that impact pretty much all of the others we wrestle with in politics: size of government and taxes.

At the root of much of our political discord and division, I see a fundamental disagreement over how large government should be and what it’s even for. And I don’t think the division necessarily breaks down cleanly between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican side, at least, is far messier than politicians would have us believe.

So let’s ask that broad philosophical question, shall we? How big should our national government be and what sort of roles should it play? I think I probably reflect the diversity of the Republican Party in the sense that I like the idea of a small government, but I’m conflicted as to what that means, in practice.

I know people (like my wonderful husband) who are essentially libertarian on this count: they think government should provide for the national defense and the basic legal and (infra)structural framework on which we depend, but that’s pretty much it. To them, the national government should not involve itself in matters of education, social welfare, environment, etc. Maybe the states should, maybe they shouldn’t – it depends on the issue. (Think: Ron Paul.)

On the other end of the Republican spectrum you have the interventionist, America-as-the-greatest-power crowd. (I generalize, of course.) To them, our government is a powerful tool that should be used to secure American interests and ideals abroad – and maybe at home too. (Look at the second Bush administration for a good representation of this mindset. Think about the Middle East, but also think about No Child Left Behind and President Bush’s legacy in Africa.)

As for me, I suppose I tend to the second, and probably go further. I want our government to eliminate waste, to function efficiently, to be really smart about how it goes about its business, but I also want it to be committed to efforts abroad, provide a basic safety net for Americans in need, and help to secure better futures for American individuals, businesses, and communities.

So what do I want from a president in terms of size-of-government speak? I want a president who tends to smaller government and appreciates the need to use it very, very carefully, but who concedes that government, realistically, has a lot of work to do. I have no use for a candidate who’s in a competition to see how itsy-bitsy he (or she) can shrink the government.

Now. That question, obviously, has got to be followed with one on taxes.

And this is maybe the issue where I differ most from the average Republican. Because I think you ought to first figure out what you want government to do, then figure out what kind of tax revenues will support that work. And then government should, you know, actually take in enough in taxes to do what you want it to do.

(In practice, I think politicians should only be willing to support new programs that they would be willing to raise taxes for. I think programs and policies should live and die on their own merit — not as a trade-off on something else.)

Though I disagree with them, I’m not bothered by the libertarian sort who want to slash taxes along with the size and responsibilities of government. There’s logic and consistency there. But I’m really annoyed by more mainstream Republicans who seem to want government to do a fair number of things and yet insist that taxes should still be cut. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes – I get it. But we should be grown-up enough to acknowledge that bridges and roads and schools and Medicare and military endeavors cost money. You can’t have it both ways.

That goes for presidential candidates too. I don’t want a candidate who’s going to beat the “lower taxes” drum right now. I just don’t see that philosophy going anywhere at the moment. I might respect a candidate who beats that drum along with one on cutting out half the government, but I don’t agree with him (or her). As I said before, I think that government, realistically, has a lot of work to do. I want a candidate who will bite the bullet and acknowledge that that work has to be paid for somehow.

I toned it down somewhat (believe it or not), but personally, my primary theme these days regarding what I want in a president is essentially: grown-up, grown-up, grown-up. I want a president who’s more grown-up than the tit-for-tat, exclusionary, complaining, bashing batch of politicians we’ve suffered lately. I want to move on from that behavior – to move forward.

Most simply, I want a candidate who can win and a president who can function.

~~~

Just as I did yesterday, allow me to close by clarifying two points. (I may do so at the end of each of these posts.)

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back here tomorrow for Part Three!

13 thoughts on “What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Two

  1. This is really good, and it is making me think! Thank you!

    You and I are both Catholic, but we probably disagree on some things. I am delighted to hear that you want more light and less heat. Me, too! So I look forward to hearing something with which I disagree so that I can learn from you in our discussion!

  2. This was very refreshing to read! I think it was Tina Fay who said that only in politics is inexperience considered a virtue. No one says “oh thank goodness I found a plumber who’s never even looked at a drain before.”

  3. Well balanced and thoughtfully nuanced… which I honestly find myself sadly surprised to say [not that I know you at all but, well, I’m sure you’ve seen similar blogs and editorials that claim the same ground you do and then go off on a lopsided rant].
    My repressed cynicism comes rising with full force, however, when I see your wish list — not because I disagree but because it strikes me as so hopelessly optimistic. When was the last time we had the kind of “grown ups” you’re talking about in politics (other than, say, in a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin)? When was the last time we had the option of voting for a President whose top priority wasn’t reelection? And when [pray, Lord, stay my blasphemous tongue] will we ever put an end to the 10-term career politicians who litter the Legislature and care for no good that is not merely common to the highest bidders?
    I’ve been working hard at putting my trust in God but American politics is a very real trial…
    But then again, maybe your post is at least some reason for hope.
    Ever thought of running for office?
    I look forward to the rest of the series.

    • Fair points. 🙂

      Let me assuage your cynicism, though, (if that’s the right way to put it) because my wish list is just that — a wish list. It’s not something I actually expect to get. (I’m not so naive!) When it comes down to it, I’ll look at all my options and go with whichever imperfect candidate fits my list the best.

      But optimistic or not, these are the kinds of wish lists I think we should make. I may not be able to contribute much to the solution, but I can choose to not be part of the problem. And maybe, maybe, maybe if enough people make the same choice (even if only by speaking their opinions on social media in an honorable, fair way), we can raise the tide a little.

      I’ve given a lot of thought to running for office. But it was only when I gave up the idea that I felt free to start my blog. Because my range of policy positions makes me unelectable — any devoted Republican OR Democrat would take one look at them and run the other way. 😉

      Thanks for your interest in the series.

  4. Julie, this series is so good! This will be the first election where we don’t have cable (just Netflix and Amazon streaming over here!), and I feel largely out of the loop already. I look forward to reading more from you!

  5. A great follow up! Thanks for posting, I can’t wait to read your next section on the candidates later. It’s really helped me focus and be realistic about what to look for.

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