The Presidency: With no prejudice or malice



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Admittedly, professional experience in politics is no guarantee of presidential performance, but lack of it should not be such a desirable criterion. So what, then, does professionalism in politics require? Arguably, here are a few components of competence for would-be presidents from now on.


A president must understand the Constitution, its history, and the values at its core. This requires not just picking passages to buttress arguments, but knowing for example, how the communal and anti-communal tensions that nearly prevented unification continue today. It demands understanding that the farmers /working class are worried a lot about the tyranny of the majority.


As Jefferson of the USA put it in his First Inaugural, "though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."


A new President who thinks that the mandate to govern includes the ability to ignore the concerns of those who lost, misses the meaning of a rightful government.


A president should be able to think and act strategically, both domestically and internationally. This demands the capability to understand social, economic, and political systems and their inter-relationships. It requires a deep thirst for knowledge of the world as well as our history, the ability to handle cognitive complexity, the capacity to think long-term, and the skill to take short-term actions that move toward strategic goals.


A president must know how to use power to assemble governing coalitions. Promises to "work across the aisle" are useless without the ability to listen, compromise, devise political strategy, and marshal support of all the partners. Our disdain for the "political class" notwithstanding, a president has to be a political animal.


A president should be able to lead a complex bureaucracy. This requires understanding how large organizations work, what leads to failure, and how to select those leaders who will do the daily work of running government. It requires ensuring that communication and dissent flow upward. When they do not, a president — and a nation — get blindsided. It demands the ability to turn campaign sound bites into realistic ideas, ideas into policies, policies into programmes, and to execute those programmes well. Ideology may propel a campaign, but runs out of steam quickly in the real world.


Such capabilities seem seldom examined or demanded during election campaigns. This may come from two misconceptions. The first is that people who are political novices can fix the very political system they condemn. That is like expecting a plumber to redesign a highway interchange. The second is that good campaigners will make good presidents, though the skills required to win are a small subset of those required to govern.


Our political system has serious problems, but it is not broken. The inability to get things done is a direct result of the design of our Constitution, crafted to make acting without widespread popular and political support next to impossible. If we cannot move forward, it is because there are systemic problems that need to be addressed and, in part, because presidents have lacked both the understanding and the political skills to do so. Putting political neophytes in the President’s House may be appealing, but the results can be appalling. We don’t hand over the controls of jetliners or fighter planes to just anyone, nor should we hand over the controls of the presidency to political beginners. Hence, we should seriously think when we try to find an alternative President, from those who are novices like Cricket Captains or a Business Magnate or even an ambitious monk.People need to carry the manifesto of an incumbent president with them when they go to vote next time and decide. "Can we trust him "?


DR. SARATH OBEYSEKERA


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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