A Partial Observer: Key Factors May Help Decide Next President

The Partial Observer

Key Factors May Help
Decide Next President

Discussion about the next presidential election no longer begins a year or so before Election Day. It begins four years before the election! Because of this, it might be appropriate—21 months before the next election—to highlight the six factors regularly cited by political scientists and historians in gauging the performance of a president. An appreciation of these factors should be helpful to citizens as they discuss the fitness of 2024 presidential candidates.

Communication: The great majority of Americans come to know a president through television, newspaper and the Internet. Effective communication through these outlets is important for a president who seeks to gain the support of citizens for a legislative proposal or during a foreign policy crisis such as a prolonged military engagement. A president whose gifts as a communicator thought to be superb was Franklin Roosevelt.

Political Skill: Presidents have to be good politicians in the sense of understanding what it takes to “get things done.” Most critical here is being effective in working with both houses of Congress. Congress is a complex institution with a variety of people holding power on a particular issue. Presidents must know who these people are and how to gain their support. Lyndon Johnson was considered to have a high level of political skill.

Decision Making: The most important activity a president engages in is decision making. Whether it is, for example, the Ukraine war, COVID, or inflation, presidents make critical decisions. These decisions need to be made with serious contemplation of the issue based on accurate information and consideration of all alternatives. Dwight Eisenhower is considered to have been an outstanding decision maker.

Vision: A president should always be concerned with articulating broad goals for the nation and then attempting to enact policies that reflect those broader goals. It is very easy for presidents to get sidetracked with daily pressures, losing sight of broader goals. Ronald Reagan has gotten high marks for vision.

Personality: Presidents differ in personality. For example, a high-strung president may become upset easily, losing the ability to calmly consider all alternatives before making a decision, or an insecure president may not be willing to make the right decision for fear of intense criticism. Gerald Ford never suffered from either of these difficulties. He is an example of an exceptionally stable president very able to meets the demands of the presidency.

Character: A president should be honest. Of course, presidents are political leaders who are involved with difficult situations that often require compromise and adjustment. This, though, is different from dishonesty. When problems of integrity begin to mark a presidency, a president’s capacity to lead the nation is seriously eroded. This has occurred during three presidencies since the end of World War II. A president who was thought to be very honest was Harry Truman.

While the factors above are quite important, they are not equally so. Decision making, personality, and character are especially critical for the success of a presidency and the future of our nation. While it is common for citizens to vote on the basis of a candidate’s party affiliation and position on key issues, it is very important that voters also consider the six factors just identified as they go about deciding on which candidate they will vote for in 2024.

Tom Kane Jr. is a professor emeritus of political science at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a long-time summer resident of Cooperstown.

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