Imagine, as I often do, Abraham Lincoln competing in one of the endless Republican debates of this cycle. Imagine our greatest president taking a question from Anderson Cooper, his time divided up with ten other candidates, his answer focus-grouped, his appearance scrutinized, and his poll numbers updated daily. He was, before his nomination for president, a Congressman who had lost a run for Senate. Jon Huntsman has a better resume.
Or, again, imagine explaining to our greatest president, as he sits by your side watching the debates, some pieces of recent history: a president receiving oral sex from an intern, that very intern going on to become a celebrity who made a fortune in diet pill advertisements, a president who frequently goes on ESPN to talk about sports, a president who goes on comedy programs and jokes about the Special Olympics. President Obama, even by modern presidential standards, puts in a jaw-dropping amount of media time. By any other standard he is closer to a pundit than a president.
Imagine explaining to Lincoln the millions of dollars spent on presidential campaigns, or the nonstop political chatter on the internet. Even the master of the bully pulpit, Theodore Roosevelt, would be amazed at how much of the modern presidency consists in talking to the media.
The media, which is noisier than ever, has become obsessed with frivolities. It is up to us, the consumers, to change that; we can simply not watch certain stations and watch others instead, or none at all. We can read only periodicals of substance (something you can give yourself credit for doing, since you are reading this), and put the superficial ones out of business.
Lincoln was not a great leader because he was a great speaker, or because he was a great retail politician; he was a great leader because of his unwavering commitment to the right ideas. Let us demand a candidate, not with the audacity of hope, but the courage of truth.