Who I Want Elected As President
Oh no, you dint just go there!! Did you??
We are going to enter another, mostly incoherent, 24/7, election cycle.
I offer how I try to assess candidates and why I am largely adrift politically. I’ll do this by giving the makings of what I consider an ideal candidate and discuss why I believe such a candidate is unlikely to be presented.
Warning: This is a bit long… grab a cup of coffee or wine or … and join me.
I’ve corrected many spelling, grammar, and usage errors but I know I’ll find a few after I hit send.
I want a candidate who is younger than 50, who is scientifically minded, if not formally scientifically trained, and who is technically savvy and aware.
Is that ageism?
Woman, man, brown, white, straight, gay, etc. is not a factor.
Knowledgeable and honest about history, is super important to me. It is also an area where things get a bit dicey.
This means they consider the world stage with an understanding that, for instance, the United States overthrew the post-WWII Iranian democracy at the behest of British oil interest and placed a weak and corrupt dictator in power - the Shah. We need to be honest that we paid and allowed that dictator to run Gulag style prisons, wantonly torture and kill people to maintain power, and financially rape the country in the process.
That’s just a for instance.
This admission should inform our diplomats and our citizenry on, at least at some level, why Iran (and other Middle-Eastern countries) distrust and even revile the US.
The, “they hate our democracy”, is simplistic and lazy. It could be that they hate the women and children we’ve kill and the destruction we’ve levied in the region.
I’m not indicating there are not those who may hate democracy or some other notion about our society. But simplistic tropes that lack nuance and candor rarely provide true insight.
We should be willing to consider our often catastrophic actions into the equation. Simplistic and lazy is NOT a characteristic I want in any leader.
This is not an endorsement of the religious whack jobs who filled the power vacuum in Iran when our ill-advised, democracy-destroying, project came crashing down.
As has been the case elsewhere in the world, our election meddling and CIA activities create power vacuums. In the majority of cases, power-vacuums are filled by the most violent actors. Good people are just trying to get by and, perhaps, feed their families or get clean drinking water.
This is as much our legacy since WWII as the Marshall Plan.
I would like a president (and a people) who wade into world affairs with the tacit admission that we are often NOT in the democracy business. Perhaps leadership that believes that national sovereignty, if it is to be lauded, is a two-way street.
The US claiming we believe in national sovereignty, as long is it is done exactly the way we tell you sovereignty is done is, of course, pathological and ludicrous.
When our state department steps up to the podium and says, “We are looking to enact regime change in [insert country name here]” - we should be willing to admit that the phrase itself is an admission that sovereignty is not the goal. Compliance is.
Matt, do you hate America?
Nope… before the decriers start shouting the, “You hate America!” trope - that lazy bastion of myth-sustaining, anti-critical thought - let’s explore the idea.
I believe I’m a patriot; one who finds rationality to be more important than sentimentalism and who finds honest transparency more palatable than constructed mythology.
FYI: When someone tells me they are a patriot, I always ask what that means to them. The responses are interesting. In fact, somewhere on Substack, I can’t recall where, I read one writer who said we should have “Patriotism classes” in school.
I wonder who’s vision of patriotism he wants taught in school? His, I bet. Scary! And I thought the pledge of allegiance was unnecessary and coercive.
Comedian Doug Stanhope offers a rather harsh but inciteful take…
Patriotism & Parenting
I view my patriotism like parenting. When our children go astray we love them, while simultaneously attempting to provide correction and direction.
Note: I have significantly more faith in my children than most politicians. It isn’t necessarily where the best and brightest go.
I love my children. But when Christopher (read Addict Son | Addict Family) was living on the streets, addicted to fentanyl, I did not tell people he was an urban camper, studying the impact of untreated cellulitis on the body. I mean, I could spin that yarn but that would both demonstrate a lack of awareness or honesty about the situation and it would NOT be an example of me loving him.
Loving him (or any child) requires that I am honest about both the challenges and admirable qualities they possesses. And when the challenges become so great that they threaten their safety and the safety of others, I must be brutally honest about the situation.
That is the type of patriot I choose to be. Sentimentalism is for children on the Fourth of July. Hot dogs and Apple Pie - they can be a tasty diversion but I’m under no false pretense that such fare provides amazing sustenance. And if that is the whole of your diet, you’re gonna die!
I am an adult, gifted with an inquiring mind. Slogans, stump speeches, rallies, etc. have zero place in whether I support a candidate or political cause.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend who said, “I still believe that the US is a guiding light to the world.”
When he said it, I started laughing… out loud.
I wasn’t laughing at the idea that the US, particularly during WWII, provided some light to the world. I was laughing at the earnest tone of his voice. It was adorable!! He sounded like a Boy Scout reciting a mantra in order to get a flag pinned to his lapel.
And, to be honest, sometimes I wish I could be re-imbued with earnest naivety.
Okay… I don’t wish to be. It’s a little grotesque and a lot bit dangerous. It allows… no… it REQUIRES that one maintain a large and healthy herd of sacred cows.
A Songwriting Diversion & Challenging Our Most Fervent Beliefs
Several years ago I had a conversation with a man I met while riding the train. He challenged me to be willing to periodically and rigorously question my beliefs - all of them!!! He explained that we all seek comfort in tradition and in-group thinking. He went on to explain that such thinking can become blind-spots to new ideas and to modifying our opinions when contrary or new evidence is presented.
He was offering no specific political viewpoint or position, except the viewpoint that personal introspection and analysis, to a thinking human, should be more important than comfort.
It took time for me to fully lean into this idea. But it was one of the most interesting and impactful conversations I’ve ever had.
A couple years ago, reflecting on where this practice has taken me (and continues to take me), I wrote this song, Ordinary Man. I’m only sharing the lyrics below.
ORDINARY MAN © 2020 - Matthew Moran VERSE 1 Close that door behind me, first morning light Headed down that highway and opened up my eyes And it don’t help me sleep none but I’m feeling free now Left the altar stained with those sacred cows VERSE 2 Setting out to find what still remains of those Fairy Tales & Fables of my younger days Maybe they’re just spirits of what never was Maybe they’re the prison, maybe they’re the cause CHORUS I’m not a hero making my last stand I might be fool but I’m not going back again But I’ll play my song every chance I can And ode to every lost and lonely soul From an ordinary man VERSE 3 Taking names, taking stock Making nice until I’m not And all this bullshit, it fills the air Smells like anger, tastes like, “I don’t care.”
“We need to carefully consider this” and other important phrases
I have no political heroes. Well... perhaps Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. This is, in part, because I believe that political heroes are the first step in sacrificing intellectual honesty. Once you’ve made someone a hero, you tend to root for them and, as with sports heroes, every foul is a bad call by the refs. Damned refs!
The President, Congress, and local politicians, should be considered our temporary employees, assessed by their ability to enact effective, information-based, policies that help the population as a whole. They are elected “leaders” to fill a role but they are NOT our personal leaders.
They should NOT be considered the, “know it all” answer man or woman. Rather, they should, with true humility, understand that they are over-their-heads in this endeavor. I don’t care who it is… they are all over-their-heads. They need to be willing and want to consult more informed and wiser minds in dozens of disciplines.
I want someone who truly understands this and who dispels with myths, most importantly, their own myths; challenging and scrutinizing their own long-held beliefs in order to test them against the best evidence possible.
And to challenge the idea that we’ve arrived at the best possible system. The notion that we - this specific generation - has the best political or economic system is a bizarre bias.
Mind you, every society, at some point, carried this bias. 4,000 years ago, 2,000 years ago, 500 years ago, etc.
Consider: If we held the same stinted belief about medicine, we’d be waving sage over cancer victims and have no knowledge of germ theory.
It is hubris that we all would do well to dismiss.
Sadly, there are some who seem intent to steer us back to anti-science mythologies… Okay, that’s the lie they tell their constituents but remember, those people “leading us” have pretty good medical care…. FOR LIFE!!
Myths for you, the best trained medical doctors for them… remember that!
Should our society/world, human-kind, avoid destroying ourselves and continue for another 500 years, it is likely that they (that future society) will reflect back on many of our strongly held beliefs as ignorant and childish!
“I don’t know but let’s have a candid discussion about this”
This would be a refreshing response from a political candidate…
Well, it would be, for me. Sadly, I believe a great number of people want comfort that the person they are choosing to “lead” them has the answers. They don’t… trust me!
I’m not looking for someone to lead me - not directly. I’m a grown human. I’ll seek counsel with those who know me and push me to be a better person.
My take on leading the country or leading a municipality is NOT about governing my actions - except as they broadly apply to the effectiveness of society.
I’m fine with laws protecting personal property, physical safety, and with the mundane details of which side of the street to drive on (traffic lights, etc.).
Don’t tell me what I can eat, smoke, or which adults (and how many) I can have sex with. Don’t tell me what to read or what music to listen to. Don’t apply your moralistic notions of how you wish to structure your life on me.
Who is MY candidate of choice?
I don’t have one. I haven’t in many election cycles.
I have defaulted my vote for a candidate - always a bitter pill to swallow. I have abstained from voting as well.
Nuance and thoughtfulness is bad click-bait. It does not speak to our baser tribalistic instincts. It’s boring!!
We live in a 30 second story world where fear and anger are far more powerful motivators than data.
It should be noted that the Lincoln-Douglas Debates were close to three hours long.
Today, we want our candidates to answer the question, any question, in two minutes or less.
If it isn’t obvious, believing that any complex idea can be articulated and explored - let alone resolved - in 2 minutes, requires an intellectual sacrifice that no on should be comfortable with.
THREE HOURS LONG! JUST IMAGINE!
We want fast-food, reality TV politics. Like our fat and sugar craving biology, we want quick fixes, conflict, and gotcha’s. “Owning” the opponent is far more interesting than providing any true path forward on any topic.
Where does that leave us?
I don’t have an answer. And, while I tend to have optimism in most areas, I don’t have much optimism here.
Perhaps in a future piece, I’ll reveal more about what I believe makes for a more effective society. Perhaps…
These days, I tend to enjoy private conversations with those who want thoughtful dialogue. Not if people are prone to anger. I don’t mind passion - I enjoy that as well. But passion and poorly expressed anger are not synonymous.
I’m passionate about many things.
But I’ll never get angry with someone who disagrees with me. Sure, they’re wrong but what can you do… ;-)
If they are presenting ideas with thoughtfulness and, at least a modicum of awareness that they, like me, could be wrong, that is interesting. And it is the only basis for nuanced communication. In most cases, I’m not as interested in the conclusion someone has drawn as much as the work they took to get there; the why.
The internets and its conversations devolve into to chaos quickly. And tribalism tends to be where any individual sets their defensive stance.
I’ll leave you with this….
I believe, at our best, society and human-kind would be better served if we worked toward a thriving, healthy, and invested middle-class (to be defined). We would do well to view the world and resources NOT from a perspective of lack but from a perspective of rational cooperation between nations.
This does not dismiss the notion of sovereignty or awareness that bad actors can disrupt this idea. But, transparent conversations that had the above perspective would provide a chance, however fragile and miniscule, of a more peaceful and utilitarian world.
The alternative, hot dogs and apple pie, are not our healthiest option.
April 16, 2023
PS: Should you have any interest in a dialogue about how we might make politics better, I recommend this Freakonomics Podcast episode.
10 Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten
Is this ageism? Perhaps. I’ve excluded myself from the list as well. I’m too old to be president. Plus, I said I would prefer the person be younger than 50. A vibrant, idea-driven, non-blathery, self-aware, 60+ year old would be fine. The truth is, there is often wisdom that comes with age. But age often has a naturally occurring, hard to combat, idea stagnation.
I’m not dogmatic on the age off my candidate. I am dogmatic in wanting them to be anti-dogmatic.
I agree with most of your points
I was happy to see your discussion of the coup against Mossadegh (I don't know how to spell his name) in Iran and your denunciation of various intrigues, maneuvors and conspiracies we have been involved in.
I would however enrich youir thesis by identifying a common denominator to many of our geopolitical mistakes. WE MISTAKENLY BELIEVE THAT THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS ALWAYS MY FRIEND. This constantly plays itself out: We supported the Mujahadeen and Osama Ben Ladin in Afghanistan when he was fightting the Soviets (Reagan sold him shoulder fired missiles whch brought down soviet aircraft and turned the tide of battle) and Osama, exhilerated at winning agains the USSR, thought he would really show his macho by attacking the people who aided him against the Soviets: US.
Of course what we did re Afghanistan was very similar to what the conservattives in Britain did in the 30's (America is largely a successor to Great Britain in world affairs; America, in a sense, is one great new england. Even our prejudices are inherited from the English, our hostility to Russia can be traced back to Elizabeth the First and her tussles with Tzar Ivan the Terrible) In the 30's, the Britsh reasoned: The Russians are our enemy. The Germans hate the Russians, Ergo, let's be good to Hitler and England let Hitler have a lot more than the Sudetenldand, including the Saarland, Bohemia-Moravia, Bratislava which become Pressburg, Austia, a major city in the Polish corridor whose name escapes me and more.
Similarly, in the 80's, America gave a lot of Aid to Sadaam Hussein because Sadaam Hussein was fighting Iran. And then, shortly after the Iraqi-Iranian war was over, and Saddam invaded Kuwait, the public relations apparatus of the Pentagon, which has made the media, for all its squalking, at heart a neutered mouse, told the American people that Sadaam was the second coming of Adolf Hitler.
Some people tried to address these problems. One of them was JFK. He might have been a cynical SOB at commencement of his administratoin, but upon Rereading Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest," I believe that JFK wanted to quit Vietnam and reform so much of what was vile in our political life. And I believe the Oliver Stone thesis. If only 10 percent of the allegations in Stone's film, "JFK," are true, Kennedy was assasinated because of the good he tried to do.
And so if we want to elect a good president, we have to destroy the cabal of bastards who took this nation away from its people and its most cherished principles.