There has been a slough of presidential campaign slogans, so less shallow than others. Most recently the winning entry for “catchiest phrase” was “Hope/Change You Can Believe In.” Not surprisingly, the best phrase doesn’t always mean the most functional administration. And I’m not just talking about Obama’s term in office. I’m talking about every human American President. It is a common trend for approval ratings to decrease over time unless a major disaster unites the voter populace (e.g., Pearl Harbor or September 11th).
In the end, where do all these platitudes leave us? Ultimately, disappointed, precisely because we DID believe in the change that was proposed. So what’s a more honest approach?
I would personally be impressed with someone who mirrored Truman’s approach: The Buck Stops Here. Something along those lines, but remember Truman was not initially elected, he succeeded Roosevelt from the Vice Presidency. A better formulation for a campaign would be “It’s Time to Do the Hard Things.” Balance the budget by cutting spending or raising taxes. Take responsibility for major political gaffes. Let major corporations fail and affirm free market principles. Take a stand against the world community, or defer to their management of their own affairs. At some level, the public needs to realize that what they want is not always best, but to get there they need a President they can respect, even if they don’t always agree with him. And that takes courage that survives popularity polls.
But election campaigns never allow that to happen–people are too focused on the individual rather than the aggregate, and on the next four years rather than the next forty. Still, despite the problems arising from the format of our democratic system, I think that it has usually stood the test of time. Now, if we can only infuse some responsibility into it, we could strengthen it even more.