Whether you agreed with his politics or not, there’s no debating that John F. Kennedy was fantastically charismatic.
Ronald Reagan was a movie star. Barack Obama is a captivating orator.
Now the stage is set with this year’s cast of candidates.
When looking at the carefully crafted images presented by the 2016 presidential hopefuls, how do we separate substance from style? Merit from charisma? Sincerity from pandering?
How do we evaluate character?
There is no formula for determining this, but rather a feeling we get from watching them during debates and public appearances on the campaign trail. Yet, if we are not careful, the feeling is swayed, not by the integrity of the person, but by superficial criterion.
Enter Donald Trump.
I have to confess that I find his style obnoxious. At the same time, we need to look no further than his business accomplishments to realize that he is brilliant. He may speak in sweeping generalities because he doesn’t have clear-cut specific ideas. On the other hand, that may be part of his genius.
Perhaps he understands that blindly adhering to a specific stance on every issue is not the way life works. From one perspective, all of life is a negotiation. Put something out, see what comes back, and adjust accordingly. The alternative is blind bullheadedness. That is not the “art of the deal.”
Furthermore, with Trump’s level of success, he’s grown accustomed to being an unquestioned authority who doesn’t need to explain himself.
Clearly, when it comes time to make a move, Donald Trump has consistently chosen well. His success is proof enough of that. But where does that leave us? How do we evaluate him? These points do not answer that question, but provide the gateway through which we can look deeper and evaluate for ourselves.
We have to ask ourselves, who is this guy? How does he push my buttons? Can I envision him—a real estate and reality television mogul—as President of the United States?
Does a candidate’s moral code need to align with ours? How do we reconcile his career success with his polarizing stances on hot button topics like immigration? Does the lack of charisma or good looks turn us off? His offensive style may well be reason enough to reject him.
Asking these questions requires brutal honesty and self-enquiry.
Next up we’ve got Hillary Clinton—a career politician if ever there was one.
With so much time in the public eye, most voters have already formed an opinion of Hillary. But why not use the presidential debates to take a fresh look? Who is this person really? What is the foundation of her narrative on each debate topic? Is her message rooted in authenticity or political expediency?
Are we capable of taking a step back and looking at her anew?
Only by taking a step back and feeling that person from an unbiased place within ourselves, can we get a sense of that individual’s character. Freeing her from associations with Bill, or her time as former First Lady in our minds is a more helpful way to consider Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.
Now enters Carly Fiorina.
Many have questioned her history in business and taken issue with her stances on abortion and gay marriage rights, among other campaign points. If we can look beyond the quagmire of political rhetoric, we can ask ourselves: Who is this person?
What is the nature of her character? Is she sincere or disingenuous? Does she have true conviction about the direction of this country or is she simply interested in having the title of President of the United States? What is her motivation?
Ben Carson is clearly an intelligent, reflective, and sincere man.
We must ask ourselves whether or not that is enough. Is his inexperience in the political arena reason enough to cast him aside? On the other hand, his career as a top neurosurgeon brings something to the table that other candidates can’t match. The question is, does outsider Ben Carson have the drive and leadership required to lead a nation?
Now let’s consider Marco Rubio.
The young senator is clearly passionate about preserving the American dream. But as Trump likes to point out, Marco Rubio looks like a kid. He does not strike me as the kind of guy that got all the girls in college. Is this relevant? Are voters likely to overcome the superficial bias of choosing a candidate based on appearance and charisma?
Lastly, what sort of experience does he have in the real world? The fact that Rubio’s entire campaign has been bankrolled by Miami billionaire Norman Braman is potentially troubling. Can the political ivory tower forge an effective leader?
Now enters Bernie Sanders, a 74 year old self-proclaimed democratic socialist.
Quite frankly, I never knew there was such a thing. It makes me wonder if someone coined a phrase so that he could be shoehorned into a major political party. He comes across as sincere. Sanders wants to tax the heck out of the rich and socialize a good portion of the economy.
Is his past political career a good indication of his ability to fill the president’s shoes? What are his politics really—democratic or socialist? And what about us—is our stance on taxation inspired by our desire to punish the wealthy or to help the poor?
Our current political system, as evidenced by the recent Republican debates, pits two extreme views against one another.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one candidate could respond to the other by saying, “That is an excellent point you make. On the other hand, let’s consider this.”
The point here is that we should look out for our knee-jerk reactions and tendency to dismiss certain candidates without asking the deeper questions. Wisdom means balance. It’s not black and white.
Before we can evaluate a Presidential candidate, we must be able to find the place of balance within ourselves.
I have no intention here of offering my personal perspective on any of the candidates. Instead, I offer questions as food for thought.
I ask you to look beyond your biases and conditioned responses, because only then can you access the wisdom that lies deep within you.
As you watch the presidential debates, remember that a wise, discerning and effective leader will only be elected by wise, discerning and reflective voters.
Author: Dr. Michael Mamas
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Wikimedia Commons