How to Choose an American President

In 1852, a few years before the launch of the Civil War, a man named Franklin Pierce captured the American presidency. Pierce had practiced law in his home state of New Hampshire, gained the rank of brigadier general in the Mexican-American War, and even served in the U.S. Senate. It was no wonder why he became the Democratic nominee for the presidency: handsome, experienced, liked by all. Who else could make such a stunning candidate?

Yet the Pierce presidency was pocked with controversy. In 1854, Pierce brought about the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Bleeding Kansas, anyone?) that outraged abolitionists and that later spurred the creation of the Republican Party. When Pierce came up for re-election a few years later, the Democrats---his own allies---decided to nominate someone else onto the ticket. Suffice to say, he left office in a cloud of shame and has now become one of the lowest-ranking presidents in U.S. history.

So how do we, as Americans, choose a good president? In this historic election year, the media likes to focus on a candidate's experience or likeability or skeletons-in-the-closet---but history has shown that such traits offer little insight on how a person performs in the Oval Office. Franklin Pierce is a good example of this: in 1852, he won in an utter landslide of electoral votes but he turned out to be a lackluster president. Pierce entered his presidency liked by many but he left the White House reviled by all.

First, let's talk about experience. John Adams, the second president of the United States, started his four years in office with more experience than our current Senate combined. In his political career, he helped spearhead the movement for the American revolution and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Yet when Adams took over the presidency, he oversaw the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which punished those who openly criticized the government. Ultimately, the Adams presidency was overshadowed by his predecessor George Washington and his successor Thomas Jefferson. Considering all of his experience, John Adams's most important contributions were accomplished outside of the White House.

Second, let's talk about likeability. In 2000, George W. Bush wooed voters with his darn good, aw-shucks personality. Here was a man who seemed down-to-earth and charming. Here was a man who you wanted to have a beer with! But eight long years of Bush shithood has proven that likeability can only carry someone so far. When Dubya vacates the presidency in January of next year, he will leave behind a messy and unnecessary war in Iraq whose price-tag continues to sky-rocket. And let's not even talk about America's reputation abroad. (Hmmm, an Al Gore presidency doesn't seem so bad now after all...)

Third, let's talk about so-called skeletons-in-the-closet a la Whitewater and the current Tony Rezko scandal. In the late 1800s, Chester A. Arthur rose to prominence through the corrupt New York political machine and was patronized by the political boss Roscoe Conkling. In a strange twist of events though, when Arthur assumed the presidency in 1881, he began a series of civil service reforms that attacked the political machines that he had benefited from. And so, Arthur proved that a few skeletons-in-his-closet didn't send his presidency in a hopeless nose-dive. Chester proved that he may have done some crooked things in his life, but this didn't mean that he was a crook.

So how do we choose an American president? To recap this litle history lesson, a candidate's experience and likeability and lack of controversy may not add up to a great and wonderful president. Obama's message of hope and change may deflate to nothing after he is elected. Conversely, McCain's military and political experience may do nothing but hurt him in this fast-paced, changing world.

So how the hell do we choose a good president? Honestly, I have no idea---and history offers little advice.

Guess we're all on our own...

*Still...I remain an Obama girl at heart. If I gotta take a gamble, then I'd rather bet on him over Leisure World McCain who may nominate Mitt Romney as his VP. Yuck.
**Check out those chops on Chester Arthur! Talk about sexy.