Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spotlight on Presidents

Clinton and Obama. McCain and Bush. Washington and Lincoln.

Millard Filmore?

You've no doubt seen the recent television commercial jokingly honoring Filmore, the 13th president of the United States, as part of the nation's celebration of President's Day. Of course, the joke is that Filmore seldom makes anyone's annual list of great presidents. He's one of the many commanders-in-chief who have faded into oblivion as America's history continues to be written.

It's a particularly interesting time to be ruminating about presidents -- legend or lost -- as we consider the current race to the White House. I suspect most of us are giving more thought than usual as to what we want in a president; what we need in a leader.

Does Obama have enough experience?

Does Clinton have too much baggage?

Is McCain too liberal? Or conservative? Or old?

There's a lot to think about between now and November. But, does it really matter? Does a candidate's record and rhetoric count for anything?

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times thinks not. Dowd is one of the most gifted political writers of our time and, on Sunday, wrote:

"Covering seven presidential campaigns have made me realize that when it comes to predicting how presidents will perform, 'nobody knows anything,' as William Goldman said about Hollywood.

"You'd think it would be safe to vote on issues, but politicians often don't feel the need to honor their campaign promises. ... Voters try to figure out who they trust to have life-and-death power over them, but there's so much theatricality and artifice in campaigns you can get a false impression of who someone is.

"And you never know who they will become once they move into the insular, heady womb of of the White House -- or how they will be buffeted by the caprice of history and the randomness of crises."

I urge you to read Dowd's complete column; it's typical Dowd -- witty, insightful and to the point. But, in the meantime, just assume picking a president is a crap shoot at best; in reality, nobody knows anything.

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