Where Have All the Good Men Gone?
by Jared Sichel | Tulane University
Disappointed with the GOP field? Join the club. The absence of the ideal candidate is no surprise given the nature of media coverage in 2011. The expectations of journalists of the modern (Republican) presidential candidate are so unrealistic that public figures that have ever sinned are told, “Stay out. The White House is for the ethically spotless. Winked at your female colleague last decade? This job is not for you.”
“This is why we don’t have ‘better candidates,’” opined a Wall Street Journal editorial. “No normal person would risk it. We have no idea if this is why so many prominent Republicans—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels—decided not to run…But we understand if it were the reason.”
Take the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain as a case study. Just as he was garnering media attention and gaining in the polls, Politico revealed that two unnamed women alleged that Cain had “conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature…There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable.”
If these vague allegations are true, so what? Are certain “physical gestures” and “conversations allegedly filled with innuendo” uncomfortable? Yes. Inappropriate? Likely. A disqualifying factor for a presidential candidate? Nope.
One of these two women, Karen Kraushaar, made sexual harassment complaints at her next job, demanding a settlement, only to later drop the case. Eight days ago, a third woman came out and said that Cain “commented on her attractiveness and invited her to his corporate apartment.” Again, uncomfortable, inappropriate, and still not disqualifying.
The fourth woman to accuse Cain, Sharon Bialek, carries with her slightly more credibility. She gave her name, showed her face, and gave a descriptive account. And if that account is true, then Cain really did do wrong. Reaching for a woman’s genitalia is inexcusable. But this (alleged) one-time wrong in a life full of rights should not be an automatic disqualifier. If there’s a proven pattern, that is disqualifying. Nevertheless, we can’t have a saint for president. We shouldn’t even strive for a saint. We need a good leader who has led a generally ethical life.
The media could, with enough determination, run convincing smear stories on you, me, and every friend and relative in between. Imagine the dirt that Politico could find in the tens and hundreds of thousands of instant messages that myself and readers of this article have sent over the course of a lifetime. If Moses himself were running for the Republican presidential nomination, the media would brand him unworthy of high office, because he hit the rock when God commanded him to speak to it.
What the 30-second debate increments have done to the nomination process is to anti-intellectualize discussions that should be scholarly. Whereas the media’s obsession with personal sin keeps out strong leaders whose pasts are not pristine, the new debate format discourages in-depth analysis of policy. An example from Wednesday evening’s GOP debate:
Moderator Maria Bartiromo: “Down the line, 30 seconds, if you repeal Obamacare, what’s the answer?”
Newt Gingrich: “To say in 30 seconds what you would do with 18 percent of the economy, life and death for the American people, a topic I’ve worked on since 1974…”
To finish Mr. Gingrich’s thought…it’s nuts. No viewer of a debate can know that a candidate has a grasp of policy when only 30 seconds are given for one-fifth of the economy.
The 30-second format does not lend itself to a Paul Ryan, who, if given several minutes, could clearly explain advanced calculus to the nation.
The final unfortunate development in campaign life is the desire for a robot candidate, someone whose mind is a Google search engine, returning 23 million hits about congressional statutes in 1.3674 seconds.
“Your state’s unemployment rate last year was 8 percent!”
“Oh yeah? Well in your state, the median income in homes where the father is between 35 and 40 fell by 7.6 percent!”
The desire for a Google robot as the GOP nominee was made utterly clear by the reaction to Rick Perry’s inability to recall the third of three federal agencies that he would dismantle if he were President. While Perry should have a list of his major points in front of him, a brain cramp is not an argument for one’s inability to govern. A President never needs to remember all of his facts. He has advisors and computers to provide facts. The President needs vision, something that is not valued in today’s debates.
If debates decide the nominee, then the GOP will have a goody-two-shoes candidate, who has enough wit to impress a crowd for 30 seconds, and who can recall impressive yet ultimately irrelevant facts in less than three.
All impressive traits. But not those of a leader.Jared is a NGJ Voices Contributor and a senior at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was born and raised in North Potomac, Maryland, is an avid Yankees fan, a football and tennis enthusiast, and he hopes to one day have enough money to own a large cigar cabinet. Follow him on Twitter @JBSichel (https://twitter.com/#!/JBSichel) and check out his blog at www.jaredsichel.com