So, folks, here we are on the brink of financial disaster caused by incredible mismanagement from the titans of Wall Street. What do we get from the titans of Washington?
We get a lot of yelling, finger-pointing, mind-changing, politicking, game-playing and a plan to make the taxpayers pick up the tab for over a trillion dollars, counting the Bush administration plan for buying up bad mortgages, shoring up failing financial institutions and bailouts for AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
(Comparative facts: Bush’s entire federal budget for 2009 is $3.1 trillion. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years. A trillion barrels of oil would fuel the entire planet for 33 years. A trillion dollars in one dollar bills would reach 789 miles high or 144 Mount Everests stacked on each other, according to mathematician/author David Schwartz.)
We have seen how George W. Bush has handled the war in Iraq (another estimated $1 trillion we haven’t paid for yet), the economy and various other pursuits. Either Barack Obama or John McCain will be the next president. What qualities should we seek in them, based on the problems that have to be solved?
We need prudence. Former President George H.W. Bush, who seems to tear up whenever his son is mentioned, was widely ridiculed for saying, "Wouldn’t be prudent. Wouldn’t be prudent." But he was on to something. Prudence is a vastly underrated virtue, something we haven’t seen in Washington for a long time.
(Merriam-Webster defines prudence as is the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason, shrewdness in the management of affairs, skill and good judgment in the use of resources, caution or circumspection as to danger or risk.)
We need consistency in beliefs and performance. The current president came into office as a free-market advocate, deregulator and supporter of smaller government. He leaves as a socialist, having fought to engineer the biggest government takeover in history, having added the biggest bureaucracy in U.S. history (the Department of Homeland Security), helped to deregulate huge chunks of industry and having presided over racking up the biggest national debt in the history of the world ($10 trillion — and counting).
We need a student of history. This president apparently did not believe that modern history has proved rather definitively that going to war preemptively, invading other countries, taking over private industry and rewarding misdeeds often have bad consequences.
We need a bipartisan leader. Campaigning for president, Bush talked the talk but never walked the walk. We accomplish great things when we work together; we create chaos when we don’t. Divided we fall, anyone?
We need a president who is collaborative, not arrogant. We can no longer have a president who believes it is his way or the highway. Nobody can think of all the pros and cons of an action the country is about to launch or even examine all the alternatives. A president has to reach out to a wide variety of experts and think creatively.
We must have a president who is calm and measured in crisis. The president must not hide in the White House, must not erupt in anger, must not shout and yell, must be able to multi-task and must be able to think long-term.
We need a president who is honest and candid with the American people. In business terms, this means transparent and accountable. The buck really does stop in the Oval Office, although some recent presidents pretended they couldn’t see it. For example, a candid president would not have insisted there was proof that the Iraqis had and were on the verge of using weapons of mass destruction.
We need a president able to inspire us. We have many challenges, many sacrifices and many decisions to make. We need a president who will encourage us to meet the challenges, make the sacrifices and wisely choose what to do, not just for the short-term but also for our future and the futures of our children and their children.
And we need a president who doesn’t take himself too seriously but who is dead serious about the job.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)