Friday, October 17, 2008

Grace Under Pressure

One thing I believe democrats, republicans, independents, and could-give-a-crappers agree on is that possessing the ability to remain calm, cool and collected under trying circumstances is a commendable attribute. No matter what occupation a person may have or what activity he or she is involved in, it will no doubt be performed at a superior level by someone able to handle unexpected bumps in the road than by someone who crumbles when confronted by crisis. We don't all agree on how the economy should be fixed, or how the Iraq war should be dealt with, or on whether it's okay to wipe out endangered species in pursuit of oil, or on Roe versus Wade, or at which point the welfare system and government bail outs officially transform the U.S. from a capitalist to a socialist nation, or on the right of private citizens to bear glocks and AK-47's and missile launchers. We are all in agreement that nobody wants to pay taxes, but since it seems that we have to pay them anyway, we aren't in agreement on precisely who should pay exactly how much. This is a partisan nation because there are far too many choices for everyone to consistently be on the same side of the fence, and in fact, most people feel conservatively about certain issues and liberally towards others regardless of how they vote on election days. So it's tough to know every four years whether the donkey candidate or the elephant candidate or some wild card entrant like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader will be the best person to preside over our nation. It's a gamble each and every time. The various issues become so convoluted as the opponents distort each other's records that inevitably voters resort to what our overburdened brains can handle and make it a simple popularity contest. Which candidate makes us feel safest? Which one would we most want to have a beer with? Which one makes us feel more warm and fuzzy inside? Which candidate looks more like an actor who would most likely be chosen to play the president in a Hollywood movie? Questions such as these are usually easier to reach a consensus on than those vaguely and insufficiently answered on the campaign trail. Being in clear cut agreement on something creates a comfort level sorely needed in such trying times as the present, which leads me back to the first sentence of this commentary.

John McCain entered the presidential race credited as the most experienced candidate by far. Being the most experienced doesn't equate to having the best judgement or being the most competent or even the most knowledgeable, but it does count for something. It counts for more than usual when the person you're running against is basically a newbie, so you're able to say stuff like - "I can get started in the first minute of day one while my opponent would require a guided tour to learn where the nearest bathroom is". I paraphrase of course because that's a lot easier to do than actual research. My brilliant wit aside though, I'm sure McCain figured he would be the logical choice for Americans because of his claim to know his way around the corridors of Washington DC yet also declaring himself the ultimate reforming maverick, thus simultaneously playing the experience card and trying to wrest the change card from his opponent's grasp. Being a war hero didn't look too shabby on his resume either. He's the same race as every other man who has ever held the job, but just in case this somehow worked against rather than for him in these evolutionary and revolutionary times, he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in order to have an equally firm grip on the minority card. John McCain had everything figured out except for one not so small thing that he somehow failed to learn from his first presidential bid. While it is not quite so difficult as actually being President, running for president is a pretty tough endeavor. Challenges will emerge from every nook and cranny. Not a single skeleton will be left alone in the closet and no stones whatsoever will be left unturned, unprobed, unprodded. But no matter how many trials and tribulations come along between the announcement to run for president and election day, the recommended code of conduct is crystal clear. You are not allowed to appear ruffled, to seem unnerved, to become visibly agitated, to sweat even the big stuff never mind the small stuff, to appear dazed and confused and distraught and overwhelmed. Not without being penalized for it. If you want to become president, you need to be able to exhibit that you can consistently appear presidential. Squirming and grimacing and freaking out are not part of the profile. You aren't allowed to call 'time out'. Running for president is not for the faint of heart or character.

Here is a list of non-presidential actions. Suspending (in name but not actually doing it) your campaign in order to grandstand. Not being able to suppress looks of disdain in a televised debate. Selecting a running mate solely for gimmicky political reasons rather than qualifications. Referring to your opponent as "that guy" while doing everything under the sun to refrain from making eye contact with him. It has been difficult for John McCain to convince the majority of Americans that he is the best choice because he is a following behind the worst presidency of all time and happens to belong to the same political party. The fact that he has voted the same as Bush 90% of the time is not particularly helpful. Remarking that the economy is not his strong suit mere months before the collapse of our economy, stating that the fundamentals of our economy are strong just a few hours before all hell broke lose, definitely proved to be problematic for McCain. But these factors should have been minor compared to the obstacles Senator Obama has had to deal with. Obama is a black man with a foreign sounding name, including a middle name that is identical to the surname of the former leader of the country we're at war with and a last name that rhymes with the first of public enemy number one. Although untrue, it has not been difficult due to his background to imply with credibility that Obama is or was at one point Muslim, not the most popular religion in these parts nowadays. Reverend Wright's YouTube moments threatened to upend Obama's campaign, and when the holy roller chose to speak up for himself rather than be defined by short video clips, he did far more harm to Obama's candidacy than good. In order to earn the democratic party nomination, Barack Obama first had to get past the seasoned Senator Hillary Clinton in a grueling primary that at the time seemed to threaten to weaken the eventual winner, but in the end proved the old adage true that whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. Obama had to endure his wife being called unpatriotic because of a single comment that was twisted to mean what the opposition wanted us to believe, and an affectionate gesture between the senator and his wife was referred to as a "terrorist fist pump". If ever there was a moment to blow one's cool, that was it. He has been painted as elitist because of one poorly phrased statement, preference for arugula salad over artery clogging fast food, and poor bowling skills. The 99.5% of times he phrases things beautifully, his eloquence and abilities to articulate and think quickly on his feet have somehow been branded as character defects. How could someone be well spoken and in touch with the needs of the common man (apparently that man's name is Joe Six-Pack the Plumber) at the same time? You hear such nonsense over and over again and it makes you wanna holla. But you'd never know it from looking at Barack Obama. As financial institutions collapsed around him he remained in control. Russia invaded Georgia and he remained in control. He was accused of wanting to teach sex ed to kindergarten kids, palling around with terrorists, calling Sarah Palin swine in make-up, and various other false atrocities. Yet in each instance he simply set the record straight while maintaining his poise. Not once did he blink, much less panic. What he has done is fit the description of the job he is seeking. He has been presidential. Now we need only wait until November 4th when hopefully the people of this country will see through the BS and see fit to make Barack Obama our 44th president.

- Roy Pickering (Author of Feeding the Squirrels: A Novella)