Politics

06.20.12

What "The Presidency" Really Means

I was reading colleague Andrew, who quotes Garry Wills of The New York Review of Books and Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect in defense of the principle "vote for the party, not the man." I wholeheartedly agree.

The quote is better known, of course, the other way around. It's supposed be a marker of some kind of flinty integrity. I've never seen why. I suppose if you're truly in the middle somewhere, fine. But parties represent beliefs. They are deeply flawed in any number of ways (yes, folks, the Democratic Party has many flaws), but they do represent fundamental world views and communities of people.

Another point, and more important in my view, is the question of what "The Presidency" actual is. Most people think it's that one guy. And far too much is made of that one guy's personality traits, even I suppose sometimes by me. The example that jumps most quickly to my mind is the oft-heard 2000 sentence, "Oh, but Al Gore is so boooring."

To which I would respond by saying: "Yes he is, and so what? That's shallow and utterly irrelevant. You may be electing one man to be The President, but The Presidency is a huge and multi-armed corporation. The President will appoint dozens of people to important posts, and those dozens will in turn appoint hundreds, and those hundreds will in turn make thousands of decisions over the next four years on everything from labor laws to drug safety to environmental protection to you name it. What kind of people do you want making those decisions?" I trotted this out at some length in the fall of 2000 at one of those awful "Should You Vote for Gore or Nader" debates, and I think I kicked the other guy's kiester down the street, even though of course it was a Nader room (this was lower Manhattan).

Anyway, this ought to be something liberals and conservatives here can agree on. If you really and truly are, say, an abortion-rights supporter who believes in balanced budgets, then I suppose you are genuinely stuck in the middle. But for most of us, party means something.

And anyway, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, 60 percent of this is 90 percent emotional anyway. Yes, on both sides. We belong to the tribe with which we're more emotionally and psychologically comfortable, then we add the intellectual stuff later, but it's primal first.