The Great Courses

What Do You Want in a President?

The Thinking Atheist
Aug 30, 2012 at 5:26 AM
5 years ago

This is a transcript from the TTA video, "What Do You Want in a President?"  

The video is obviously a broad stroke on a very complicated issue, but it speaks largely to the isolated, insulated and often opportunistic persons and personalities that we so often see in public office.  Representatives of the Common Man who know little about the Common Man.  Regulators of business who know little about the real business world.  Implementors of foreign policy who often know little about the world beyond the headlines and Sunday morning sermons.  

I wondered if other secular individuals like myself might be feeling the frustrations of having sub-par elected representatives, so I took a few minutes to explore the issue on video.  I hope it creates some conversation out there.

-Seth Andrews



Is there a topic of discussion more polarizing than religion?  


As the US Presidential election approaches, and because I host an online community of skeptics, I get a lot of questions about my own perspectives on the presidency and how a secular worldview colors those perspectives.  Now we can argue all day about social programs and taxation and regulations and the military and the role of government and the Left and the Right and the Republicans and the Democrats and everyone in between…and the 3-ring circus that is the American political system. 

People always ask, who are you gonna vote for?  And I’m like many of you.  I look at the options, the pathetic plate of leftovers we’re supposed to choose from, and I wonder why I’m supposed to be satisfied, as a voter, with choosing the best of the worst.

In my mind, there’s a bigger question…a more important question to ask:   As a secular individual and a US. citizen, what do I really want…what do I really expect from my Commander in Chief?

ell, I can tell you what I don’t want.  I don’t want someone who was groomed for public office fresh out of college.  I don’t want some slick theoretician in a suit with a pretty face and a fancy new law degree.  I want someone who hasn’t just read the playbook and seen the theory, but has been out there on the field, in the real world, executing plays.

I want somebody who has worked a real job outside of public office.  I want somebody who has juggled a career and family and a mortgage and bills and learned how to make a budget and live within it. 

I want someone who mowed their own lawn, who has changed a flat tire, who has pressed their own clothes, somebody who doesn’t have perfect hair, who experimented in college, who has a hobby other than golf, who thinks it’s wasteful to spend $1500 on one set of clothes, who didn’t grow up with servants, who knows what it’s like to wait in line at the DMV, somebody who defines success as what they do MORE than what they have.

Now…I don’t mind financial success.  I really don’t.  I honestly don’t mind someone being rich.  Good for them.  But for higher office, I also don’t want someone who started their life with a silver spoon or ended their private job with a golden parachute.  I want my President to have earned it, to have had inventive ideas and worked hard and treated other people well and prospered because they had the stuff to be successful, to overcome obstacles, to solve problems, to give their word and keep it, and to apologize for mistakes.

And yeah…I want a President who will admit they’ve made mistakes.  Someone who has taken a wrong turn and made a bad choice and supported a bad decision and came away with life lessons that helped them make better choices the next time.  Without blame.  Without excuses.  Who in life hasn’t made mistakes?  The greatest success stories in history so often came from those who had previously failed, and often failed miserably, but they kept at it, kept working, kept innovating, kept trying, kept learning and refused to quit.  They didn’t pass the buck or point fingers.  They sucked it up, regrouped, ignored the naysayers and got back in the game. 

I want someone who loves his country…who is patriotic without being blindly patriotic…who takes great pride in these United States but who also stands with gratitude, humility and friendship alongside the many other great and free nations of the world. 

I want someone who sees the Big Picture, who can understand the cultures and perspectives of the nations and citizens we share this planet with.  Who can see the complex challenges of foreign policy in three dimensions, beyond borders and skin color and language barriers, who can discern root problems, and who sees the issues here and abroad, not through the lens of a religious ideology or holy prophecy or spiritual warfare or signs of the End Times, but as cause-and-effect circumstances brought about by human beings, complex ises that can only be navigated and solved by human beings.

Yeah.  I want a President that is a humanist.  With eyes forward, not looking up to the sky.  Who doesn’t put their trust in invisible friends, who doesn’t have long-standing ties to the radical religion or the batshit-crazy pastor.

I want a President who will uphold and constantly reinforce the constitutional wall which protects the state from the church AND the church from the state, who doesn’t invoke their faith to improve polling numbers, who realizes that the founding fathers did not found the U.S. as a Christian nation.  I want somebody who puts the “human” in humanist…promoting a love for people instead of allegiance to some Wizard in the Sky.  Someone with a passion for science and discovery and evidence and education…for truth no matter how inconvenient or politically unpopular that truth might be. 

I want a President who respects and honors our military men and women AND who holds in tremendous regard the deadly-serious consequences of military intervention.   Who sees war as a horrible, last resort, who will pursue every avenue for peace, but who also has the resolve to put the awesome power of our military into decisive action when those rare and drastic situations warrant.

I want someone who knows when to compromise and when NOT to compromise.  I want someone who doesn’t form opinions with focus groups.  Who doesn’t speak in bumper stickers.  Who talks like real people talk.  Who can conduct a state of the union address that actually says something specific.   Who won’t spend almost half of their first term running around the country holding rallies and giving speeches convincing us why they should get a second term.

Mostly, justI want somebody different.  Somebody who doesn’t look comfortable in a suit.  Who doesn’t look airbrushed…polished…manufactured…like they just shot out of the election machine.    Who reminds you of somebody you know, somebody in your circle, somebody you can relate to, somebody you admire, someone you can take personally.  Not because they have an “R” or a “D” after their name.  Or have a catchy slogan.  Or are affiliated with a certain church or denomination.  Or because you hate their political opponent.  Or because of the color of their skin, or the number in their bank account, or because they tell you exactly what you want to hear…

At the end of the day, in my little utopia, I want a President that has stood out…stood above…stood for excellence, but who is also real people. 

And the sad thing is, I’ll bet there are many, many others out there that would love a President that fit a description at least somewhat like this.  But we shake our heads and we say, “It’ll never happen.”  That’s not how politics works.  That’s not the kind of person who even runs for public office.  They want nothing to do with it.  An elected official who’s real, who’s just like you and me?  Who are we kidding?

What does our cynicism say about us?  About our political climate?  About our country?.  Why are we OK with choices that we so often have to make excuses for?  When did it become acceptable to settle for the career politician, the opportunist, the egomaniac, the zealot, the leftovers, the best of the worst?  And when will we as the electorate finally decide it’s time for all of us to expect more?

Think about how you’d answer that question in your own circle. 

What do you really want in a President?

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