Kathleen Parker offers an enlightened over-view of presidential history of the second half of the Twentieth Century in an editorial on the possible results of the recent hurricanes: Parker on Presidential Picking
She’s got a summary of succession that should be mandatory reading for every high school government student in the nation. It’s true beyond question that events, the more current the better, will influence the next presidential election. When good things happen and a leader looks competent, we get re-election. We sometimes get re-elections that suspend common sense and abandon the Washingtonian tradition of self-limited tenure. Franklin Roosevelt seemed to be overcome by his reshaping of the Constitution and the relationships of the nations of the world while simultaneously expanding the power of the federal government, correcting the economic woes of the free-market and curing the common cold. He sucked up a third and then a fourth term and led us inevitably to the 22nd Amendment. When the system can’t be trusted to limit power, we modify the system.
But, will Katrina and Rita call the election of 2008? Nah! It’s way too far away and events move much too quickly in the modern, media-driven world. George Bush can’t be re-elected and Dick Cheney won’t be the candidate under any circumstances. We’ve got three years of developments to weather before we get to tap those touch screens, blacken those bubbles, punch those chads or clip the wings of those butterfly ballots. There will be new names, new issues, new tragedies to rehash by then.
It is undeniable, however, that events color the perceptions of the body politic. When the economy is soaring, we will re-elect the incumbent. When unemployment is high, we will flush the bums out of office. When we feel threatened, we will grab the aggressive candidate who promises us security. If we feel discriminated against, we will lean on the left for sympathy and policies that will empower us. It’s all natural.
Ms Parker notes that Bush 43, who (at least now) doesn’t drink, party or engage in illicit sex was a natural reaction to Clinton who seemed to do all of those to excess. Clinton’s voluble nature was a reaction to the Ivy League reserve of Bush 41, who was a backing off of the cowboy confidence that we saw in Reagan. Ronaldus Magnus was a correction from Carter’s pacifistic preaching and economic disasters while Jimmah C. was a breath of moral fresh-air to recover from the scandals of Watergate. Nixon was a reaction to LBJ’s socialist tendencies and JFK was charm and culture after the dullness of Ike. All true, as far as it goes.
Yet, Parker’s examination is too superficial. While her summary succeeds, it ignores the most important aspect of 21st Century presidential politics. It doesn’t notice that what we think are the important issues and what we think the character of a candidate contains is quite often only what we get from the loudest braying of the media.
Repeatedly we were told of the 10,000 dead in the wake of Katrina. How many died? Regrettably a few hundred. Sad, but a long way from the headline numbers. Was Mayor Nagin as incompetent as some portrayals? Hard to believe. Was Governor Perry in Texas that much more in command than Blanco in Louisiana? I don’t know for sure. The point is that what we read in the headlines caters to what we want to be told. What the facts are can often be quite different.
Why is that important? Because, if a republic is to function; if a representative democracy is to be effective in selection of its leaders; if voting by the citizenry is to be efficacious at all, we must know what is true. The over-simplification of complex issues is the norm and it also holds the potential for the death of the grand experiment in governance which is America.