It’s been pointed out more than once that the two major-party candidates this election are the most unpopular in history. Whether lamenting the flawed primary system, the impact of money or the tendency of TV to reduce what should be a campaign of issues to one of mud-slinging personalities, everybody wonders, “Is this the best we can do?”
And the answer is, probably. At least, given the system we have.
Even a combination of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and an above-average Canadian would be cut down by the standard viciousness of a presidential campaign. You can hear the anger: “He consorted with lepers! He was a wealthy lawyer who worked with Muslims! He’s from CANADA! They have socialized health care there!”
I mean, who would vote for that?
But maybe we could create a perfect presidential candidate from the postwar era — one whom everyone could vote for, or at least respect. He’d be a war hero, like Eisenhower; have Kennedy’s wit and skepticism; LBJ’s arm-twisting abilities; Nixon’s wiles; Carter’s belief in human rights; Reagan’s camera-friendly sunniness; Clinton’s intelligence; and Obama’s reason.
Reagan wouldn’t make it in the current GOP (and besides, he ran up the deficit … though it was through defense spending, which I guess made it OK for all the people who call themselves deficit hawks). Kennedy’s health and romantic affairs would eat him alive. Even a candidate with all these abilities would be ripped apart; George H.W. Bush was probably the most qualified candidate, in terms of government service, in the postwar era — congressman, agency director, UN ambassador, vice president — and still ended up a caricature.
No, I think there has been but one perfect candidate and president in history. He was qualified, having served as a congressman, speaker of the house and governor. He was the first true dark horse, so he hadn’t been a great focus of attacks. (Yes, he did own slaves. But he was a man of his time!) He kept his promises to a minimum and fulfilled them all. He said he would serve just one term. And he had the courtesy to die just three months after he left office, so he wasn’t even around to meddle in his party’s affairs after his presidency.
Where have you gone, James K. Polk?
(Incidentally, the 1844 campaign was ugly, too.)