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HOW WE SHOULD ELECT OUR NEXT PRESIDENT
Imagine that the
CEO of a Fortune 500 company has just announced his imminent retirement, forcing
the company's Board of Directors to scramble to find a replacement. However,
in a dramatic break from tradition, the Board decides that instead of either
enticing a CEO away from another company or interviewing several qualified applicants
for the position to oversee the company's two hundred million dollar a year
payroll and over six billion dollars in assets, they decide to open the position
up to any employee of the company, thereby making it at least theoretically
possible for anyone from the office janitor to the senior VP of Marketing to
become the next CEO, regardless of their background, education, temperament,
or competency, if they can garner sufficient votes.
Now let's imagine that within a few weeks of this announcement three strong candidates emerge from among the company's nearly 25,000 employees to make a run for the coveted and lucrative position: a staid but experienced senior VP, a charismatic and dynamic junior exec, and a well-liked assembly-line foreman with twenty years experience. Each candidate quickly develops a constituency: the Senior VP has the backing of the senior executives due to his experience, the junior exec has the backing of many of the mid and lower level executives because of his promise to bring fresh blood into the higher levels of management, and the foreman has the support of the workers due to his common-man persona and pledge to more equitably divide the company's profits amongst the employees. Not surprisingly, the election quickly becomes nasty, with each side accusing the other of dirty tricks, of making promises they can't possibly keep, and of lacking the expertise to do the job. At one point things get so bad that some of the employees walk off the job in protest to what they perceive to be unfair tactics being used by the other sides, threatening to bring production to a standstill.
Mercifully, election day arrives at last and after an acrimonious round of voting the Senior VP wins the balloting by a narrow margin. Again, not surprisingly, this results in accusations of vote-fixing being made by the losing candidates and in the ensuing weeks thousands of employees call in "sick" in protest, again hurting production and sharply cutting into profits. It takes some heavy-handed threat of mass terminations to get things back to normal, but by then the company has been irreversibly factionalized into contemptuous warring camps, creating a strained work environment that is to haunt the company for years afterwards.
Obviously the decision to open the position up to any employee and having the employees vote among a slate of largely unqualified candidates did more harm than good. Even though the process was the very model of democracy in action, it proved to be disastrous for the company and have negative consequences for years afterwards in terms of poor company morale and lowered productivity.
Sound a bit difficult to imagine? It shouldn't be, for the scenario I have just outlined occurs within the highest echelons of the largest corporation in this countrythe United States Governmentevery four years. This illustration is but a microcosm of the national trauma we endure when it comes to electing our next president (or reelecting the current one), and one I believe works no better for us than it would for our fictitious corporation.
One only needs to look at the current atmosphere of polarization, contempt and distrust to surmise that our election process is badly flawed on several levels, from the quality and qualifications of the men and women running for office to the general fickleness of the voting public itself. Unfathomable amounts of money are spent to pay for around-the-clock negative campaign ads and months of tedious electioneering analysis and punditry are endured all in an effort to elect a person only a fraction of the population are truly happy with. Then we do the same thing all over again four years later, with one party trying to destroy the other in an attempt to get "their man" (or woman) into the Oval Office to enjoy the next four years of the general public's contempt, apathy and indifference. The problem is systemic, and appears to be growing worse rather than better.
It wouldn't be so bad if this process resulted in superior leaders, but history has demonstrated that it has produced no more than a handful of truly capable presidents, with a pantheon of the inept, mediocre, and just plain corrupt being the norm. Of course, none of the forty-three men (Grover Cleveland having two non-consecutive terms) who have held the office were truly evil nor did any of them set out to be bad leaders; it's just that the job turns out to be more than theyor most men or women for that mattercan handle.
But why is this? Why do we so rarely elect the most qualified or capable people, but instead are forced to choose among the most charismatic, the best organized, or in many cases simply the most determined, ambitious, and wealthy? Frequently we cast our ballots based on nothing more than the fact that our candidate is less objectionable than their opponent and then wonder why we aren't satisfied with the direction of the country!
But it doesn't have to be that way. Consider for a moment that in this country of over three hundred million men and woman, there must be literally thousands of people who possess the leadership skills, intelligence, experience and wisdom to make, if not a great president, at least a competent one. They might be business owners or corporate executives, educators or diplomats, scientists or teachers, or even gardeners or carpenters, but I am convinced that there are at least a thousand people more qualified to be president than most of the people who have held the post in the past or will hold it in the future. The only reason they don't runand, in fact, the main reason we never hear about them at allis because they have neither the means, ambition, nor inclination to endure the rigors of a two year presidential campaign (or it could be because they are smart enough to know better). In any case, they don't make it into the stellar heights of presidential wannabes for any number of reasonsmuch to the detriment of our country.
So how might we rectify this problem and create a scenario in which everyone who casts their vote can do so knowing that no matter who wins, the country is likely to be in good hands? I have pondered this question and have a few suggestions that we might consider. I'm under no illusions that a single idea mentioned here will be adopted any time soon (if ever), but I believe that whenever a person complains about things, they should be ready with a set of solutions lest their grievances be seen as little more than mere belly-aching. As such, I present my answer to the question of not only how we should go about electing our next president, but how to do it in a way that is most likely to guarantee a truly qualified candidate wins while minimizing the rancor and political infighting that has become the hallmark of American politics.
a Job Description
Do you realize that unlike nearly 99% of all jobs in the world, that of president of the United States has no formalized job description? Wouldn't having the basic qualifications and requirementsalong with a complete list of expected dutiesmake selecting our next candidates far easier? It's most immediate advantage would be that it would allow us to instantly discount the vast majority of those who aspire to the job, saving them and the rest of us months of having to endure their mindless drivel. Okay, here's my proposed job description:
POSITION: President of the United States
QUALIFICATIONS: Must be an American citizen (naturalized or native born) at least 35 years of age. Must be a man or woman of integrity, intelligence, and proven leadership abilities (creating and successfully running ones own business, senior executive in a major corporation, organizer of a global charity, etc.) Higher education helpful but not required; experience being the primary factor in consideration for this position. Candidate must be a quick learner, possess the capacity to take both criticism and advice equally well, consistently demonstrate an even temper and generally good-natured demeanor, and have the ability to simultaneously consider multiple options while under extreme duress. Candidate must also possess a prerequisite sense of humor, have an innate compassion for others, be of a peaceful nature though still possess the strength and willingness to fight for what they believe in, and most important of all they must at all times maintain and express the courage of their convictions. Honesty, reliability, consistency and patience are all required traits, as is the ability to work long hours, be able to negotiate compromises between warring factions, and explain your policies in a coherent manner to the general public. Rigorous and often relentless schedule with some travel required with the possibility of being put into dangerous circumstances (and potentially being the target of political assassination) is always a possibility.
Of course, this is only a partial list, but you get the idea. At least it's a place to start. Okay, so now we have our job description, what next?
Step 2: Identify
The next step in this process is to create a review board whose job it will be to identify a short list of from ten to fifteen potential candidates. This august body would be composed of carefully selected men and woman of various backgrounds and qualifications from both ends of the political spectrum (as well as those in between). It would include diplomats, politicians, scientists, engineers, educators, capitalists, industrialists, artists, authors, activists, military officers, philosophers, and even a few psychiatrists thrown in for good measure, along with representatives of all the major religions (and even a few atheists and secular humanists thrown in for good measure) as well as anyone else thought to have a stake in the country's future. They would serve on this board for a period of approximately six months, without pay.
Next, this committee (let's call it the Presidential Review Committee-PRC for short) would meet about a year prior to the general election on a weekly basis, going over a who's who of potential candidates that has been collected and periodically updated over the years, examining each person with the above job qualifications in mind. This investigation, done without any of the potential candidate's knowledge, would go beyond merely examining their professional résumé, but ask questions normally outside the venue of a traditional job interview such as whether there are any papers they've published, talks or lectures they have given, charitable organizations they have worked with or chaired, accomplishments and awards they have achieved, organizations they belong to and boards they have served on, along with other aspects of their professional and public lives. Their private life would also be examined (within reason) as well, basically with an eye on determining each candidate's moral and ethical nature, and they would even be evaluated by a panel of psychiatrists to determine their mental state (of course, since the evaluation is being done without the subject's knowledge, such an evaluation would have to be largely guesswork, but it could still provide some idea of what personality "type" the prospective candidate possessed). And, finally, they would be evaluated on the basis of their physical health and whether they might have any medical conditions that could prevent them from maintaining the robust physical requirements demanded by the role of President.
Next, after months of evaluation and investigation, each member of the PRC would assign a numerical score of from 50 to 100 to each area of review: qualifications, education, experience, health, personality, etc., which would be added to those of the other council members to produce a cumulative score. The ten to fifteen candidates with the highest scores would then be approached with an "invitation" to seek the presidency. Of course, each finalist would have the choice of turning down the invitation, in which case the next person on the list (with the individual with the highest score being given first right of refusal) would be approached next until five candidates have agreed to serve as potential candidates. Those five would be then be publicly announced a mere six months prior to the November election, thereby starting the election clock.
The beauty of this plan is that it demands only a few months time and no financial investment, opening the process up to almost anyone who meets the basic criteria. Devoid of the rigors of the modern political process, even the most unassuming person might be willing to give it a shot if invited to do so.
Step 3: Alter
the Election Process
Obviously, for any of this to work, it would require not merely a dramatic transformation in the election process itself, but largely an overhaul of the entire system. First, and perhaps most importantly of all, the entire election cycle would be greatly shortened, thereby easing the emotional toll each election induces upon a frequently frustrated and fatigued populace. In my world, the race for the White House would last a mere six months and be broken into two ninety day segments: the first three months would be an introduction to and examination of the five selected candidates (largely through a series of sponsored debates and video profile reports) followed by a single national primary. The top two vote getters from this nation-wide primary would face off in the November general election just three months later (with each candidate's running mate being selected from among the three primary election losers. This way all four candidatesthe two presidential contenders and their running mateswould be equally qualified to be president, regardless of which candidate wins in November.)
Second, no candidate would run under the banner of a particular political party. Of course, most candidates would likely have some personal party affiliation and may have even run for public office under a specific party in the past, but for this election they would remain unaffiliated in an effort to hopefully reduce the rancor seen in most elections as well as greatly diminish a candidate's need to "tow the party line" in order to retain support. This would also make the election far less dirty, as each candidate would have little reason to attack their opponent; the election process instead concentrating on the qualifications of each candidate. Of course, a political party or organization would be free to endorse a particular candidate (as would labor unions and private citizens) but the candidate would not be allowed to endorse or promote a particular party's political platform.
Third, money would not be a factor in this election. Both primary winners would be given a flat $50 million dollars (tax-free) with which to pay for staff, advertising, travel expenses, etc. and none could accept private donations (citizens could still contribute to the various political parties, of course, and to PACs, but it would need to be ensured that none of these monies would go directly into a candidate's coffers). Public events and scheduled debates would be privately funded, and of course each declared candidate would be afforded full Secret Service protection for as long as needed. Additionally, a wealthy candidate could not contribute any of his or her own money to their campaign, thereby eliminating affluence as an advantage.
Finally, the election itself would be held on the first Sunday in November when most Americans do not have traffic, jobs, and other events to be concerned about. It is expected most voting would be done via the internet (with registered voters being assigned a twelve digit alpha-numeric code beforehand which would only be accepted once and only on the day of the election) though polling stations will still be available. This would greatly speed up the process by practically eliminating troublesome absentee voting and the chance of fraud as well as all but eliminate those nasty long lines at polling stations, which would be a huge boon to civilization already.
I imagine many readers imagine I'd also suggest eliminating the electoral college and selecting the winner purely through the popular vote, but I don't see that as being fair. The electoral college was designed to ensure that the president is elected by the states in an effort to deter candidates from concentrating all their efforts in only the most populous coastal cities and ignoring the "hinterlands" of the country. Without the electoral college, the presidency would be routinely decided by a half dozen heavily populated states, resulting in a potential indifference to issues important to the rest of the country and creating a power monopoly centered around New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Unfortunately, that's not the last word on the subject. In the three Presidential elections in history in which the winning candidate won the electoral vote but failed to win the popular vote, each President's legitimacy was questioned, much to the detriment of their administration and, it could be argued, to the country at large. As such, the question remains of how does a candidate maintain legitimacy without a popular vote majority and still make the selection reflective of the entire nation and not just the big cities? Easy: give each state a single electoral vote regardless of their population, with the winner being the candidate who wins twenty-six or more states (a tie would be broken by the popular vote.) In this way North Dakota becomes as vital to a candidate's chances as does California, making for a far more equitable situation. Of course, it's still possible a candidate could win a majority of states and still lose the popular vote (as George Bush did in 2000) but it comes as close to an equitable solution as I can think of.
or Life Term Presidencies?
Finally, the last significant change I'd suggest is making the Presidency a potentially life-time position rather than limiting it to a pair of four year terms. I know this is probably the most controversial aspect of my plan, but consider it from the standpoint of practicality: if a particular leader proves to be highly capable, why force them to step down after a comparatively brief tenure, especially just when they may be hitting their stride? Successful corporate CEOs have been known to stay on for decades, so why should we automatically retire a proven commodity once we've finally found him or her? Instead, it makes more sense for the President to serve as long as they are capable of doing soboth physically and popularlyrather than repeating the messy and ponderous process of electing a new leader every four or eight years.
Of course, this doesn't mean a President couldn't be recalled (or fired, in more vernacular terms) if they fail to live up to expectations. Like judges, the President would be automatically subjected to a straight up yes/no "confidence" vote by the voting public (unless they announced their resignation at the end of their term beforehand) three years into each four year term, with only a simple majority needed to either keep the President in powerthereby eliminating the need for another electionor give him or her their termination notice, at which point a new PRC panel would be empowered to begin the search once again for a replacement. Additionally, a sitting President could still be removed from office through impeachment or the Congress could call for an early "confidence" vote (with a two-thirds vote) anytime after the President's twenty-fourth month in office. Like a corporate CEO, a President would serve at the indulgence of the public and could be removed at any point were their performance to be considered seriously lacking.
And, just to be complete, what if a sitting President fails to finish their term for any reason and the Vice President takes over? If this happened before the President had completed his or her first twenty-fourth months in office, the Vice-President would effectively become president for life (though, of course, they would still be subjected to the automated "confidence" vote one year prior to the end of each term precisely as their predecessor would have had they remained in office). Should this eventuality come to pass after the twenty-fourth month, however, the Vice-President will be considered an interim leader only, would not be subjected to a confidence vote, and would have to run for their own term in the next election cycle (again, with the PRC choosing a slate of candidates for him or her to run against). In either case, the succeeding Vice-President would be selected from among the last election cycle's slate of losing candidates, or a special, abbreviated version of the PRC could be called to choose a slate of candidates and a special election called.
or Merely an Autocracy?
Some may complain that my proposal threatens the basis of the democratic process by depriving the vast majority of Americans the right to run for president if they have the means and ambition to do so. To this charge I plead guilty. This is a more autocratic way to elect our leaders, with tremendous power being delegated to a short-term, unelected panel of what might best be described as Human Resources managers. However, it still strikes me as a far more enlightened and less rancorous means of choosing the countries' leaders, for not only does it largelythough not entirelydivorce the election process from the long-term rigors of a brutal and expensive and frequently polarizing campaign, but ensures a higher quality of leadership in the process. Surely "drafting" men and woman with proven leadership abilities who are devoid of the naked ambition inherent to so many who run for the presidency could only be considered an improvement over our present system, and it would free our leaders from the pressures and demands of having to continually keep their Party leadership happy while attempting to be as bipartisan as possible. Further, it would give men and woman of tremendous abilities an opportunity for service they would never have through our present system. It may not be the perfect solution, but what we are doing now doesn't seem to be working, so why not give my proposal some consideration?
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