Dear Dr. Brian,
I’ve been watching the presidential candidates from both parties participate in the recent televised debates, and I’ve heard candidates who’ve been governors say that a president needs executive-branch experience, which candidates who’ve been senators don’t have. Then I’ve heard candidates who’ve been senators say that a president needs foreign-policy experience, which candidates who’ve been governors don’t have. And then I’ve heard candidates who’ve been business people say that a president needs private-sector experience, which candidates who’ve been primarily in public office don’t have. So what do you look for in a President?
Novice in New Hampshire
Dear Novice in New Hampshire,
I think that experience in all of those areas helps. That said, there’s nobody (not even someone who’s already been President for four years) who can have every kind of experience and know everything that’d be helpful for a president to have and know. Just as no psychologist or lawyer has experience with every possible problem that a patient/client might present, nobody knows everything there is to know about healthcare and also about the military. Nobody knows everything there is to know about finance and also about diplomacy. And nobody knows all of the ins and outs of running a large organization and also all of the ins and outs of shepherding legislation through Congress.
What I look for primarily, then, (in their words and deeds) are the core values which will guide the individual’s decisions, from policy decisions to appointments of Cabinet secretaries and other public officials. So what core values do I look for in particular? I start with two: individual liberty and personal responsibility. These two values necessarily go hand-in-hand because they’re the fundamentals essential to your achieving the fullness of your productive potential in life without infringing upon my achieving the fullness of my productive potential in life. As I see it, the overarching mission of our government, and of the president who heads it, then, should be to uphold and effectuate these two overriding values.
A person who places a supreme value on individual liberty is a person who’s unlikely to be corrupted by the prospect of exercising power over others. Likewise, a person who places a supreme value on personal responsibility is a person who’s likely to operate with integrity, with both a sense of obligation to make his or her best contribution to the nation and a sense of accountability for his or her behaviors and decisions and for keeping his or her word. And from those two fundamental values—individual liberty and personal responsibility—descend guiding principles such as: the sanctity of life, the rule of law, American exceptionalism, the privacy of property, and capitalism.
Then from those values and principles descend public-policy priorities such as: secure borders, self-defense rights, toughness on crime, democracy, small government, free markets, low taxes, local control of education, school choice, and defense of the legal and societal traditions upon which our nation was built. (The latter means reluctance to read beyond the plain text of our Constitution; it means reluctance to redefine the nuclear family—man, woman, and child—that’s the fundamental unit of both human propagation and society; and it means reluctance to infringe upon citizens’ religious beliefs, even if someone’s feelings are hurt because he or she didn’t get a benefit or didn’t get his or her first-choice provider of some service because the would-be provider of the benefit or service declined on religious grounds.)
[Before I go on with what I look for in a president, notice what’s not on the foregoing list of policy priorities: forcing productive Americans to help less-productive Americans by seizing and redistributing the productive Americans’ productivity. Helping members of our society who are incapable—mentally, physically, or both—of helping themselves is an important and noble objective, but I think it should be a personal-policy priority (i.e. something done voluntarily by compassionate individuals acting alone or in concert), not a public-policy priority (when it’s a public-policy priority, it never works well, and it destroys the nobility of the objective because the element of compassion-driven sacrifice is replaced with compulsion-driven sacrifice). It’s funny to me, in a sad way, how some Americans can’t seem to wait to vote for whoever promises them the most freebies (“free” college, “free” healthcare, “free” cell phones, …), as if goods and services are ever really “free” on a societal scale. The value of a good or service is created by someone seeking out raw materials, procuring them, manipulating them, combining them, converting them into something more than they were originally, etc., and/or by someone doing an activity that makes the others’ lives easier or better in some way. And all of those efforts begin in the minds of individuals who choose to think about what they can do that’s of value to others. It’s astounding to me when people—voting adults—seem to actually believe that others are going to continue to put in the same level of thought and put forth the same level of effort and put out the same level of productivity when, instead of being compensated, those things are being confiscated. It’s also funny to me, again in a sad way, how some Americans keep voting, election after election, for those who promise them things despite how those promises, even when kept, end up providing them, at best, subsistence-level lifestyles that carry with them the obligation to continue voting for the providers thereof. To me, those who seek to acquire power by promoting dependence upon themselves rather than by promoting independence not only violate the values of individual liberty and personal responsibility but effectively seek to shackle the very people whom they purport to want to help. Every election, I wonder how many more elections, how many more generations, it’s going to take before the recipients of all that so-called “help” wake up and realize that the “help,” on balance, really hasn’t been helpful. But I digress.]
Then in addition to the core values that I look for in a president, I look for intelligence, of both the traditional variety and the emotional variety, which again go hand-in-hand in an optimal president. Traditional intelligence—IQ—enables the individual to acquire, assimilate, and analyze voluminous and complex information and come to logically-sound conclusions about which policy priorities best effectuate his or her core values and principles. Emotional intelligence enables the individual to identify what information and/or influence he or she lacks that’s necessary to implement his or her policy priorities, to identify who has it, and to then work effectively with them to implement the priorities. Emotional intelligence also enables the individual to effectively articulate and explain his or her core values, principles, and policy priorities (it’s critical to sustained effective leadership that everyone involved in implementing a leader’s policy priorities understands the values and principles from which they descend) and to motivate people to effectuate those values and principles by formulating and carrying out specific policies.
So there you have it, basically what I look for in a president. I hope it helps you to think about what you want to look for in this pivotal election year. If you’d like to know more about what I look for—and what I don’t look for—and why, I explain my beliefs about what’s best for America in much greater detail in my book Stop Moaning, Start Owning: How Entitlement Is Ruining America and How Personal Responsibility Can Fix It.
Thanks for your question,
(“Dear Dr. Brian” is published for public-interest and entertainment purposes only – it does not establish doctor-patient or attorney-client relationships, and it should not be used as a substitute for psychological, legal, or financial advice from a licensed professional in your area.)