Sep 8, 2008

This Ain't No Kitchen, It's A Blast Furnace

Although post-convention polls have predicted the result of Presidential elections only about half the time, the tremendous bounce gained after the Republican National Convention shows a new enthusiasm about Republican candidate John McCain's candidacy (See Poll: Convention lifts McCain over Obama -

However, I believe the real difference in this election could be the candidate's reaction to negative attacks. Let's face it. Both sides of this Presidential race have engaged in questionable and negative campaign tactics. This is part of the game of national politics. We hear that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or that his birth certificate was forged. And we hear that Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's daughter was actually the mother of Palin's new baby. You can't turn on the radio or TV without reading, listening to, or watching this increasingly negative aspect of every Presidential campaign.

I detest this kind of politicking even though it will always be with us. But what matters to me is not so much the poison that hatches from campaigns and their supporters. What matters to me is how each candidate responds to the poison darts thrown their way. Who can handle the heat in the electoral kitchen that actually is more blast furnace than kitchen? The job: President of the United States, arguably the most powerful elected position in the world. If a candidate poorly handles pressure during the rough and tumble of a nasty Presidential campaign, what does that say about their ability to handle that 3am phone call and decision making where millions of human lives may be at stake?

For example, the recent Atlantic magazine article "The Front-Runner's Fall" gave this summary of the reasons for Hillary Clinton's failure in the Democratic Primaries:

Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence—on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to “do the job from Day One.” In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.

Is it fair to project the conclusions reached by the author of the Atlantic magazine article into a prediction of Clinton's competence for the Presidency? Yes, it's fair to do so, especially given the article's use of primary sources and documents from within the Clinton campaign. In the heat of battle, Clinton failed to perform as a Chief Executive. If she couldn't keep her own staff on the same page and was unable or unwilling to make executive decisions, how would she handle decision making as President?

And what of the executive ability of candidates Obama and McCain? Who works better under pressure? Which candidate has had experience making decisions under pressure? Which candidate has a track record of accomplishment? No candidate is perfect- everyone makes mistakes, some of them whoppers. But how did the candidates respond and/or learn from their mistakes?

No matter who wins in November, there's something to be said for the blast furnace that is American Presidential politics. Ugly, yes. But it's been proven to be a good winnowing out tool. As for the November election "Winnowing in" the best candidate? Only future history will tell us.

No comments: