Small World: Preferred ways to pick a president

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht
BN Columnist
Let’s see a show of hands — How many of you out there are satisfied with any of the potential nominees for president? How many still waiting for the coming of an as yet unknown redeemer?
Hmmm. I suspect the three ladies in back are Hillary fans. Right? I knew it. And the older couple down front would be hanging on in the Romney camp? Right again. And the rest of you…Would you prefer a Hispanic Republican or one converted from Libertarianism? Or what about the soon-to-be former governor of Maryland? Can’t remember his name? Not important. The key thing is that he’s never been indicted (unlike the state’s last venture toward the presidency with Spiro Agnew).
The point I’m laboring to make is that two years from now we citizens will be asked to pick our — and the world’s — leader for the following four years. And nobody has a clue about a person with the requisite qualities to succeed Obama. (I’m ignoring those Hillary fans for now; there’s a good chance she might prefer to crochet or croon lullabies or assume other grandmother chores.)
Why is that? Why aren’t crowds of aspirant candidates lined up to contest for the position? In Iran dozens, if not hundreds put their names forward only to be turned back. Here, the world’s most important job opening attracts only a scant few (plus, as in the last Republican primary, some truly queer ducks).
Otherwise qualified candidates, it seems, don’t have the talent or taste to raise the stacks of cash that a run for the office demands these days. Others don’t have the purity of biography that would be scrutinized by the relentlessly probing press. Some highly qualified men or women might be afflicted by weak egos — they might honestly be too humble to push themselves forward for such an elevated position.
Maybe, however, like so much in our political life, our means of making a choice as set forth by the Constitution and hallowed custom need to be changed. How would we go about selecting a leader if we were starting out as a fresh, new country without the baggage of history?
One of the popular things some successful polities do is to allow a goodly number of candidates to compete in a first round of national voting (no local primaries) and, two weeks later, stage a run-off between the top two vote getters. That gets us away from the absurdity of small states like Iowa, New Hampshire or South Caroline, wielding undue weight in the selection process.
That doesn’t solve the problem of money, however. We would have to change the rules so that anyone might contribute as much as desired — but not to the coffers of specific candidates. Rather, all donations would be merged in one pot and dished out to the certified candidates on an equal basis. If not enough funds were contributed, fed money might supplement. And, of course, approved TV ads would be freely contributed to the certified few by the networks (as a condition of their license).
But, you sputter, how would a candidate be “certified” and who would do the certifying? In Iran only those with a clerical stamp of approval may run. In Hong Kong, the Chinese regime proposed that its chums would pick three or so worthy citizens as suitable candidates. I expect that as in both of those countries, the U.S.A. might also have folks sleeping in the streets if Washington tried to substitute a similar ploy for the size of bank account that now qualifies a candidate.
Let’s try a hallowed American approach: an independent commission formed by law with its members designated by position (not names) — the presidents of top universities, the heads of successful corporations and an equal number of union leaders, and a group of honorably retired and unemployed worthies from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. This commission would then draw up a list of maybe a dozen of the best-qualified citizens from among the 319 million Americans as first round ballot candidates.
Party membership would be irrelevant and the Electoral College closed down as undemocratic. The emphasis would be on drawing the best people into government. If the commission idea worked well, smaller commissions might be set up for each state’s elections.
Or, we could muddle along and let dollars decide.
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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