What is the number one quality you are looking for in a president? Reader responses to my last article, “Must a President Be Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?“, were enlightening.
On the one hand, there were the expected, polar opposite evaluations of President Obama, including these two: “Wise, well-educated, courageous, pragmatic, honest. IOW [in one word], Obama,” in contrast with, “Uninspired, indecisive, inexperienced, unable to learn, unwilling to change, IOW, Barry Soetoro.”
There were also questions regarding the inaccessibility of his school transcripts: “How did the democrats know what George W’s grades were and now Perry’s grades were? Is there some law that says democratic presidents’ grades and all their background are totally private but dems can look up GOP’s grades?” And, “We don’t need to see his grades to know that he never took an economics class.”
In general, however, there was a consensus that good grades in school don’t necessarily predict future success: “Anyone who has been a teacher knows that grades are, at best, an incomplete measure of ability,” since, “Formal education and intelligentsia are totally different issues. . . . The one thing that can be taken to the bank is that judging someone’s ability by academic achievement alone is a BIG mistake.” Accordingly, “Retention of random knowledge is useless if one cannot apply it to new and unique situations.” Or, in more disparaging terms, “Anyone who looks into the drivel taught in most college classrooms isn’t going to spend a lot of time worrying about Rick Perry’s college credentials. The biggest fools in America work as professors at the most elite universities.”
So, if having excellent college grades is not a high priority, what are the most important qualities you are looking for in a president, and which one was at the top of the list?
Patriotism ranked high, but shouldn’t we take for granted that the president of the United States would be a patriot? The answer to that question suggests that many who are unhappy with President Obama feel that in certain ways he is not proud to be an American. And so, “we should pick someone that truly loves America” and adheres “to the credo that the United States is and should always be THE exceptional nation,” someone with “a sincere faith in and love of America and its people.” This person should also have, “An absolutely firm belief in the Founders and the Constitution and First Principles” and an “unwavering respect for and support of The Constitution and the rule of law.”
Another quality that came up frequently was “guts” or, more specifically, “guts under pressure.” This was variously defined as “Willingness to make unpopular decisions because they are the right decisions,” or being “willing and able to made a prompt decision, even when the right decision is the hardest one,” which then requires, “Toughness defined as the ability to withstand the withering criticism of your opponents” when you make those difficult decisions. For women, this quality was called “moxie.”
There was the obvious need for “wisdom,” “common sense,” and “superb judgment,” including the ability “to select and surround oneself with good advisors.” Others thought that being humble was important.
Interestingly, there was little mention of spirituality, and I spotted only one explicit call for the president to be a “born-again Christian.” And, surprisingly, with the economy being in such poor condition, there was little emphasis put on the president having practical business experience. Instead, there was the desire to have as president someone “that believes the free market is the answer to economic problems and the church, family and community have the answers to our moral problems.”
What then was the quality most desired in the president? It was “integrity,” which “covers strong moral values such as honesty, faithfulness, etc.” Directly related to this, the word “character” appeared frequently. Character and integrity are a lot harder to acquire than good grades in school!
One reader commented, “Integrity would be [number] one. . . . I learned from my father a very long [time] ago that a man’s word is his bond, if he cannot be trusted either by his wife or other men, he is not a man.” Another opined, “Integrity is more important than [guts], and seemingly non-existent in Washington.” We need a person, therefore, with “High character and a belief in moral absolutes. . . Someone that people trust. Someone with excellent character. A hard worker who is able to choose other good leaders of great character that surround him.” So we’re back to square one. If integrity is the most important quality needed for a president (although certainly not the only quality needed), who would you vote for in 2012? That certainly puts a different spin on things.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.