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Our Views: Think of primary as a job interview

Let the candidates’ qualifications, ideas guide our choice, not just personal appeal

POSTED: March 4, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Georgia voters and those in nine other states are next in line Tuesday to join this year's game of Whac-A-Mole in the Republican campaign for president.

There have been nearly as many front-runners in the GOP field as there have been candidates, each taking a short unhappy turn at the head of the pack before sliding backward.

Or perhaps this race more resembles one of those old-fashioned electric football games with the vibrating field where the plastic players tended to run around in circles rather than sprint downfield. No one seems able to hold onto the ball and score enough points to stay ahead.

Regardless, four candidates remain in the hunt to try and unseat incumbent President Barack Obama in November. And however flawed they may seem, and however fleeting their momentum has been, they are the top choices on your ballot.

In addition, voters in Hall and other counties can decide on Sunday liquor sales, while Flowery Branch residents must trudge over to city hall to fill yet another seat on their depleted city council.

Before we choose among the GOP field, and again in the fall, we should ask ourselves: What qualities do we want in a president? Before choosing someone to fill a certain job, we need to define the job to be filled.

The role of president has evolved over time, now only vaguely resembling the post described in the U.S. Constitution. That blueprint describes a chief executive who executes the laws submitted by Congress. He is to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces, negotiate foreign treaties, nominate people to fill vacancies in the other branches of government and consult with Congress on important matters. That's about it.

Nowhere in the Constitution is the presidency described as being the creator of all domestic policy, "handler" of the nation's economy, sole declarer of wars and every American's best friend and protector. Yet it has expanded over the years to meet those expectations. As a result, it is a job for which no man or woman can hope to fill every requirement.

And that's not all. We want our president to agree with us on the issues, not just a few but all of them. Which is difficult since we don't agree on those ourselves. We extend that mandate beyond the usual matters of economic, international and domestic topics to include more personal beliefs.

We want our president to share our feelings about faith and family life. A smiling, loyal spouse and plenty of well-scrubbed kids are a must. We require them to be educated, but down to earth; tough, but diplomatic; articulate, but folksy; committed, but not too extreme; not too old, not too young, not too ... anything. Piece of cake, right?

Face it: How many real people from planet Earth meet all of these criteria?

Yet they do try. Perhaps this high bar we have set is why candidates feel they must promise more than they can deliver. They vow to balance the budget, lower the cost of gasoline, fix health care, calm international conflicts, create new jobs and keep our streets safe.

The full moon is too bright? We'll have our colony up there tone it down. There isn't a national or global crisis on their radar that can't be cured by the candidates' latest 10-point plan.

But reality is more complicated; any and all attempts at such big ideas must involve partnership with Congress, half or which at any given time is from the rival party and determined to oppose the occupant of the White House over anything. Let the president propose a bill to celebrate warm puppies, sunshine and hugs for mom and the loyal opposition will demand negotiation.

In addition, many voters expect the person they vote for to reflect their values and concerns, to "relate" to them on a personal level. These are mostly wealthy men of privilege and high education who have served much of their lives in government or executive roles, so to think they're just like us and our neighbors is a bit of a reach.

But should that really matter? We're not picking a best friend for our Facebook page. We're not choosing a national paterfamilias to act as head of the family, balance the national checkbook and carve the holiday turkey.

In truth, we're hiring a CEO of the government, a capable manager who can fill the job capably. When you interview a job candidate, you don't ask about their church, their children and dogs or how many girlfriends they've had. We need to know if they have the character, the background and the ideas to do the job. Other matters can get in the way of making a more careful decision.

If you go to the polls Tuesday, consider carefully what you want in a president. Vote with your gut and your heart, but don't leave your head out of the equation. Choosing wisely is a first step toward giving us a qualified resident of the White House and the kind of national leadership we want and need.



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