A president’s temperament and personality matter just as much as their policies; watch and learn, and take that knowledge to the ballot box.
After over a dozen presidential primary debates already, many Americans are grown skeptical of the spectacle.
What does this have to do with governance, many wonder.
Why can’t they be nicer to each other?
Aren’t we just making fools of ourselves?
Can’t we stick to the issues?
All these questions are valid. Ideally, a presidential debate would give you a chance to hear the proposals and ideas straight from the horse’s mouth. Debates would be respectable affairs, wherein dignified men and women calmly delineated how their ideas differed from fellow candidates, and why, dear voter, you should adopt said speaker as your next POTUS.
But part of the draw of watching these debates, and indeed a huge faction of their value, lies in seeing how each candidate handles him/herself when under attack.
Can she defend herself?
Can he maintain composure?
Is this person’s instinct to get revenge, to laugh it off, to ignore and deflect?
These personal qualities are – contrary to popular opinion – actually more important than policy stances.
In order to govern well, a president will need personal skills. He or she will need to know how to handle opposition. We should be looking for a candidate who stays calm but defends himself. We should be watching for a candidate who answers the questions, defends her positions, points out the flaws in her opponents, offers a sense of humor here and there.
The presidency is a two-fold duty. First and foremost, the president sets the policy agenda for the country. So yes, those positions matter. They matter a great deal.
But the president also functions as the symbolic face of America, both in terms of facing outward to our neighbors around the world, but also as a mirror back to the American people.
Demonstrating an ability to be respectful towards opponents, while nevertheless standing up for one’s own beliefs, is absolutely imperative in a potential POTUS.
Remember that as you watch. Remember that as you vote.
Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore