How can America attract good leaders to vie for the most important job in the world?
A provocative question, indeed.
I can very nearly see you cringe, your left pinky reflexively on the verge of hovering over the Escape key. You’re thinking that I’d have to be nuttier than a squirrel turd to go there. And you’d be correct in that assessment, especially with an early posted commitment to steer clear of the provocative realm of politics so as not to whip up far left and right combatants (who are, of course, all far smarter than moi … ).
But I was accosted and challenged by a (former) friend to go there … here. And I’ve always believed that taking on challenges and navigating one’s way through them without offending anyone builds resilience capacity.
It’s taken some no-nonsense noodling to deliver the goods on my ranking of the United States’ ideal President (POTUS).
Here goes. No risk it, no biscuit. Setting the bar.
Drawing on history, it’s a close call.
I’m going with Josiah “Jed” Bartlet.
Gotcha! But hear me out.
These challenging Covid times have brought many of us back to our favorite old TV series. Some months ago, my wife and I finished re-watching (and occasional binging into the wee hours) West Wing, the political drama series created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from 1999 to 2006, 156 total episodes. Almost 15 years later, it again didn’t disappoint.
If you’ve never watched the series, set primarily in the West Wing of the White House where the Oval Office and senior presidential staff offices are located, do yourself a huge favor and start from Season 1, Episode 1. The ensemble cast … the storyline … the writing … is extraordinary.
Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford, Alan Alda, Jimmy Smits, Kristin Chenoweth, Lily Tomlin, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, Dulé Hill, Stockard Channing … and others. What’s not to love about that remarkable lineup of acting talent?
The only element of the series stronger than the cast is the writing, which is sharp, witty, fast, funny, heart-tugging, and (still) contemporary.
Good People Doing Good Things For The USA
To me, it proved an apropos time to re-watch the series because of the country’s political climate and the consequences of our last election for POTUS. It’s television, so policy “work” is crunched into 60-minute blocks of idealistic portrayals. That being accepted, episode after episode underscores the significance of good people trying to do good things for our country, regardless of political persuasion, in what, in real life, has to be an enormously demanding, challenging, complex political environment that none of us can truly comprehend.
A Strong Civics Lesson
Even so, the series is a heckuva civics lesson, stressing the importance of:
- The Constitution, arguably the most consequential governing document in the history of the world.
- Our Founding Fathers setting in place a system of checks and balances of power. Though chief executive and vested by the Constitution with broad executive powers to be used at home on domestic issues and extending to foreign affairs as our chief diplomat, the President’s executive power is purposefully — and smartly — limited.
- A free press, including a Fourth Estate of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, helping ensure that government always works on behalf of the American people through a commitment to transparency. Included in this critical element of the White House is inarguably one of the most demanding jobs on the planet — White House Press Secretary, whose responsibility it is to provide regular, reality-grounded briefings to the media to both inform the nation and hold the White House accountable.
- Our Chief Executive surrounding himself with a diverse team of top-shelf, dedicated, experts-in-their-fields Cabinet members and advisers, including a National Security Council. These individuals have a single yet momentous purpose — to protect our country by providing unflinching, experienced counsel on pressing national and international issues, regardless of whether their summary of facts, options, and consequences may not be what the President wants to hear.
- The President’s Daily Briefing of the most current, high-level, all-source information and analysis on national security issues.
- Our Chief Executive Officer’s leadership qualities, including a keen ability to communicate in an appealing, straightforward manner to the American people; an openness to new ideas; an unwavering emphasis on relevance, transparency, and truth; an ability to compromise; and a healthy dose of political courage to do what is right for the American people.
- The uniquely American transition of power from one President to the next occupant of the White House.
West Wing is a television show, nothing more and nothing less. But I came away once again, almost 15 years later, yearning for the likes of President Bartlet sitting in the oval office. He’s my idea of representative democracy — of good and decent character — to respond to the formidable, arduous challenges our country and our world face … every … single … day.
Regardless of your political convictions, please do yourself a favor as the election continues to fade in our rearview mirror — watch this fantastic series. It’ll stick with you and make you hold fast to Leo McGarry’s (Barlet’s Chief of Staff played to perfection by the late John Spencer) pronouncement: “They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that. Do you?”