Is there a better way to pick a president?

Frank J. Fleming offers A Modest Proposal for Training Future Presidents:

If God got fed up with us — and who would blame Him — and stepped down, would we want an extensive, well-thought-out process for picking a successor? Would we want to make sure whomever we elected to rule the universe was someone we know to be responsible with the power over life and death and who wouldn’t just smite people because he’s bored?

And would we want to make sure he has a good understanding of physics so we know he won’t mess with Planck’s constant and destroy all matter? Or would we just pick someone off the street and say, “Hey. He seems nice. Let’s give him ultimate power over us all”?

Well, the American presidency is the next most powerful job after God, what with running the world’s most powerful nation and the ability to kill billions. You’d think we’d have a very solid process for figuring out the best person to fill the position, but we have been completely clueless on this for more than two hundred and thirty years. And the Founding Fathers weren’t much help on the task of picking a president, only listing two qualifications: he or she has to be thirty-five years old and has to have been born in this country. Nowadays, that limits the pool of potential applicants to about two hundred million people. Luckily we have a two-party system which somehow uses New Hampshire and Iowa to whittle down all the choices to two. . . .

In the current election, for example, people say they think Barack Obama would be a good president because he’s inspirational, but if you want inspiration, can’t you buy books or tape sets for that? Others say John McCain has the experience to be president, but experience at what? He’s been in the Senate a long time, but what do they do there? Vote on stuff? You could get the same experience just clicking on a lot of internet polls.

We even debate over which candidate will better improve the economy, which is kind of like trying to choose from a litter of kittens based on which one is best at controlling the weather (hint: it’s usually the calico). It’s like we don’t even know what a president does. No huge corporation is going to hire a CEO just because they just like the cut of his jib; they’re going to want a solid resume showing that the applicant is already experienced doing similar work.

Fleming, tongue firmly in cheek, offers one idea for doing it better. But might there be better ways to get better candidates? For example, how about choosing our president by taking the constitution literally? Just elect members to the Electoral College, none of whom are publicly committed to a candidate. We would be electing individuals known in each particular state whose judgment we trust. They would then select the president, arriving at a consensus by give-and-take and negotiation, possibly selecting someone most of us have never heard of.

Do you have any better ideas?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    Presidential nominees selected by duel to the death, what kind of weapons allowed, if any, to be determined.

    Hey, if it’s “the next most powerful job after God,” should it be any other way?

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com Kevin N

    In two of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novels, Imperial Earth and Songs of Distant Earth, the president is chosen at random from among those citizens who are mentally fit and haven’t committed a crime.

  • Carl Vehse

    The demonrats would also exclude those who hunt caribou, eat mooseburgers, and don’t abort babies with Down syndrome.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    When in doubt, turn to Monty Python.
    Throw candidates into the water and see if they float.

  • TK

    I got stuck at the premise: “If God got fed up with us — and who would blame Him — and stepped down…” It’s a challenge to continue reading after that opening line.

    That being said, I think that it wouldn’t hurt to “just pick someone off the street and say, “Hey. He seems nice. Let’s give him ultimate power over us all”. Of course, I’d want a vetting process, with a pool of ordinary joes to choose from, background checks, debates…yeah, it would turn out to be the same complicated process as we have now.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Come to think of it, I’d rather be able to choose (including the ability to ban) what press we get stuck with.
    Well, I guess we can choose that nowadays, except the banning part, though we can turn them off. But I’d just as soon shut many of them up.
    Maybe the more desirable thing would be to choose what kind of electorate we could have.
    Nah. Can’t go there.
    We’re pretty much stuck.
    My fondest desire would be for presidential campaigns not to last so long. Granted the primary process was compressed, but these people have been campaigning like forever. And the campaigns alone do a pretty good job of tearing us apart. Long, ugly, over-the-top campaigns surely make clear majority wins hard to achieve, and thus make future governance difficult.

  • Peter Leavitt

    For airplane reading I like Charles MCarry’ s spy novels featuring Paul Christopher, the Harvard eucated CIA spook. Christopher is the thinking man’s Jame Bond. The best of the Christopher novels is Tears of Autumn, out of print, but available on Amazon and in libraries.

    McCarry was for years an undercover CIA agent and is probably the best American spook story writer.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Instead of refining how we choose Presidents, let’s refine the office. Given that the Constitution pretty much forbids 80% of what the government does, if we returned to that, the President would no longer be the world’s most powerful man, and the shenanigans about getting him elected would greatly decrease, as the stakes would be far less.

  • Anon

    Dr. Veith, you mean like what the Framers meant in the Constitution? Quite a notion. All we have to do is repeal the 1913 amendments.

  • Anon

    People, the president of the executive branch of the federal government of these united States isn’t supposed to have “ultimate power over all” or be “next most powerful job after God” We aren’t supposed to be electing a dictator every four years. It used to be that who was on the county or city counsel and who was governor was more important than who was president. It used to be that the State legislators selected Senators and replaced them at will, so it was more important who your local representative, whom you might actually know or know about, was.

    As Bubba also points out.

  • FW

    How about have congress elect the president like they do in England.

    Does anyone know why our founders decided not to go with the system they were used to from Mother England

    There is something to be said for a unified party rule. at least we can be clear on who to blame!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Yes.
    To give the citizen more stake in the choice, and not the parties.
    I recall that political parties were not held in high favor at that time.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “Would we want to make sure whomever we elected to rule the universe was someone we know to be responsible with the power over life and death and who wouldn’t just smite people because he’s bored? … And would we want to make sure he has a good understanding of physics … Or would we just pick someone off the street and say, ‘Hey. He seems nice. …’?”

    Why does Frank J. Fleming hate George Bush so much? :)

    Susan (@6), so censorship of the press: a good thing? “I guess we can choose that nowadays, except the banning part, though we can turn them off. But I’d just as soon shut many of them up.” Why do you hate the Constitution?

    Also, (@12), you said the presdential system is designed “To give the citizen more stake in the choice, and not the parties. I recall that political parties were not held in high favor at that time.” But then, nor were average citizens. Thus, the electoral college.

  • Sam

    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MDZiMDhjYTU1NmI5Y2MwZjg2MWNiMWMyYTUxZDkwNTE=

    Perhaps one way to not pick the P is to improve the method of picking the VP. The link above? Ouch.

  • Sam

    Sorry; the word NOT in comment @ 14 should be removed.

  • FW

    certainly how we pick our vp could use improvement. ouch ouch ouch

    http://mleddy.blogspot.com/2008/09/couric-and-palin-and-orwell.html

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Yes, tODD, but the electoral college reflects the citizen vote, not its own desires. We elect the electors.
    Remember your joke last night about McCain being applauded for murder, tODD (and how we all laughed)?
    #6 was my stab at hilarity.
    But I do shut them up all by myself…when I can find mute on my remote.
    Sometimes it takes this old gal a while–I can’t remember if I’m operating my cell phone or the clicker or the garage door opener. Ever think you’re muting Campbell Brown, and call your sister in Kentucky instead?

  • Anon

    Maybe we won’t have to, anymore:

    “KMOV: The Barack Obama campaign is asking Missouri law enforcement to target anyone who lies or runs a misleading TV ad during the presidential campaign.”

    Remember his proposal for an internal security force as well-armed and numerous as the regular armed forces?

  • Anon

    It is worse than I initially thought.

    http://www.breitbart.tv/?p=182623

    The “Truth Squad” includes prosecutors and sherriffs from around the State of Missouri.

    I’m reminded of a certain episode of Babylon 5.

  • Anon

    And of course, the Sturmabteilung.

  • Anon

    And it builds. Now it includes the justice department. Reporting while we yet may,

    http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/justice-department-vs-republicans/

  • Susan aka organshoes

    That’s been reported on Special Report with Brit Hume.
    His campaign is also sending letters to TV & radio stations in certain states, urging them not to run ads from the NRA that he says aren’t accurate.
    But, of course, they are accurate.
    His slogan should be ‘Change–you can bet on it.’

  • Anon

    From the office of the Governor of Missouri:

    http://governor.mo.gov/cgi-bin/coranto/viewnews.cgi?id=EkkkVFulkpOzXqGMaj&style=Default+News+Style&tmpl=newsitem

    Hopefully Obama, his campaign cronies and these people will be spending a good deal of time in federal prison.

  • Anon

    And Baraq Hussein Obama will have a chance to write his third book, this time from San Quentin. Perhaps he will entitle it “My Struggle” . . .

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Anon (@24), oh wow … you’re right! I never noticed it, but Obama is just like Hitler! Wow! I’m so going to vote for McCain now! Why hadn’t you posted a salient comment like this before?!

  • Anon

    Well, let’s see, you can go to the right hand side here and purchase Dr. Vieth’s _Modern Fascism_ — I recommend that you do, and read it. And you can get Elie Wiessel’s _The Portage to San Cristobal of A. H._ for confirmation from a liberal source.

    That will show you the ideology.

    Then, you can consider the SA tactics being used in Missouri and possibly elsewhere.

    Then you can add the mass slaughter of infants.

    Add to this forcing homosexual marriage upon all of the States, and some phrases suggesting on the churches, too.

    Then consider the promises of universal service to the State, regulating thermostats, and food rationing.

    Or you can remain sarcastic.

    Your choice.

    But such choices are not without consequences in life, and before God when you die.

  • Van Ajemian

    I’m being a party pooper by breaking up the merriment. Friday night, PBS broadcast a Bill Moyers interview with Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University. Bacevich has come out with THE LIMITS OF POWER, in which he talks about the imperial Presidency, that is, about the power which the President has.

    We should be concerned about whom we elect, because the President has so much power. But what if we took some of that power away? While our vote would not become frivolous, we would be less concerned about accidentally electing the wrong person. Why not a Presidency consisting of a council of three, with provision for quick action during emergencies?

  • allen

    Obviously, the disadvantages of having a one-party state outweigh the advantages.

    But I was watching TV and Fareed Zakaria was interviewing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. He asked the Premier if what is going on in China today isn’t some sort of departure from Socialism.

    The Premier responded that Adam Smith wrote two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776). He said that while the latter book describes the “invisible hand”, the former is about the “visible hand,” and that a society needs to use both hands.

    Zakaria asked him which book was his favorite, perhaps knowing that Smith had always considered the first to be greater. Wen smiled and said that his favorite book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Wen is a geologist by profession.

    Is multi-party democracy unamenable to getting some of those smart geology fellers in there?

  • Anon

    van Ajemian,
    The President does not Constitutionally, lawfully have that much power. We don’t need Triumvirs, we, the People and the several States need to insist on “upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

  • http://link Boy78

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