I have the deepest respect for Thomas Sowell and his work, and this column of his is no different:

It is easy to understand why there would be pent-up resentments among Republican voters. But are elections held for the purpose of venting emotions?…

Elections…have far more lasting, and far more serious — or even grim — consequences than emotional venting. The actual track record of crowd-pleasers, whether Juan Peron in Argentina, Obama in America or Hitler in Germany, is very sobering, if not painfully depressing…

Despite many people who urge us all to vote, as a civic duty, the purpose of elections is not participation. The purpose is to select individuals for offices, including President of the United States…

An election is not a popularity contest, or an award for showmanship. If you want to fulfill your duty as a citizen, then you need to become an informed voter. And if you are not informed, then the most patriotic thing you can do on election day is stay home. Otherwise your vote, based on whims or emotions, is playing Russian roulette with the fate of this nation.

Sowell is correct. But—

But elections will always turn partly on emotion.

There are intangibles that determine our reactions to even the most experienced of leaders. The ideal candidate—my ideal candidate, anyway—has knowledge and executive experience, including experience in government, which would tend to make a governor (or a former governor) ideal. That candidate also, however, has a certain forceful and yet engaging personality that engenders trust (not blind trust, but trust) in the wisdom of his/her decisions for the future. It helps, too, if that person is eloquent, articulate, and yet sincere, as well as able to convey complex thoughts with a graceful economy of expression. And of course the thoughts that he/she expresses would have to agree with my policy leanings—not 100%, but substantially so.

It’s an order so tall that few can completely fill it. In retrospect, I think Reagan probably came closest of the presidents in my lifetime.

This election cycle, when I’ve studied the governors running for president on the Republican side, I used to think “Walker’s the best.” After all, he had the admirable track record. He also seemed to have youth and energy, and what I’d seen of his speeches was, if not eloquent, then certainly eloquent enough.

But over time I’ve noticed that something is missing with Walker, and that “something” seems important. What is it? Is it something emotional, what I’ve referred to before as his blandness? Should that even matter, or does it represent a larger problem, one that would be a stumbling block in some way, or to winning election as president in the first place?

It is disconcerting that a man known for his stubborn fighting nature seems so mild-mannered, so unlike someone who has done what he has in fact done. So the seeming contradiction (which may or may not be meaningful) in Walker confuses me, and that confusion causes me to back away somewhat from him and to look at the others.

What works for a governor at the state level is not necessarily the exact same thing we look for in a president. For one thing, states are relatively local and the country is not. For another, there’s foreign policy. We want a grander vision for a president, and I don’t know that that is merely an emotional need in us. I think it might be something that matters in a president.

What of the other governors? I thought Perry had promise, but that he was handicapped not only by his 2012 performance but by the fact that he conjured up too much resemblance to George W. Bush (even more than Bush’s own brother, Jeb). At any rate, it’s moot now.

Kasich is deficient in that he’s too liberal for me, as is Pataki. Gilmore hardly registers at all and neither does Huckabee, at least for me. Jeb Bush has the same deficits as Kasich, plus he comes across as weak. Jindal and Christie are conundrums, but in different ways. Jindal is obviously bright and quite conservative, but he just doesn’t project strength and I doubt he will ever gain traction in this election.

As for Christie, I happen to be comfortable with him (I’m from New York City, after all, and he speaks to me of home), think he’s smart, and believe he’s actually more conservative than people give him credit for. But I’m well aware that the base detests him, and I share some of their doubts about him. I don’t think he has much more chance of the nomination than Jindal does, although his numbers are slightly higher.

A track record of proven executive experience isn’t enough. Agreement on political stances isn’t enough. Emotion and charisma isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—enough. Knowledge and eloquence? Still not enough. What is enough? Some combination of all those things, plus depth of character, a ramrod spine, and an ability to project the quality of leadership. If a candidate has those things, I don’t care about a few flaws, as long as those flaws aren’t basic.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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