America has no king. Instead we have a president. We have no national saints; instead our public idols venerate our nation’s founders and past presidents. America was also, even from the beginning, an amalgam of different peoples united by ideals, not identity (“A nation of laws not men.”)
What’s the point of all of this stratospheric rhetoric that stinks of high school textbooks?
All of this percolates into the collective unconscience of Americans and frames their ideas about what kind of person should be a president. As a people, we are more likely to follow a bold, visionary leader, even if that vision is a certain folly. We want a leader, not an administrator.
This was true from the beginning. The American Revolution itself was either a masterwork of geopolitical strategy, or a military fluke that otherwise should have ended in calamitous failure. First, not many would dispute that the Treaty of Paris was signed because the British no longer felt it was worth prosecuting a war that they could certainly win if they were to bring their full military strength to bear–other colonies were more profitable. In fact, certain British politicians wanted to grant the American colonies a degree of autonomy before the conflict spiraled out of control, and, later did so in Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Those who followed the Revolutionaries did so without any real concern for the likelihood of victory; they did so because they believed it was right. The same could be said for the Confederate States’ secession.
John Adams was probably the first president to be shown the door after one term because he was a good president, but not an inspiring one. He was an administrator, and a competent one but doesn’t merit an image on Mount Rushmore or any currency. Even a flattering recent biography hasn’t done much to rehabilitate him or level his stature within the pantheon of the Founders.
This dichotomy, facile though it may be, does seem to run throughout our history. Grant was a hero but corrupted the government. LBJ was visionary but is most responsible for America’s greatest military failure.
Skip ahead to the future. The Republicans have taken the advantage here. Pick it apart all you like, but most people see Bush as a straight shooter that knows what he wants to do, even if they think it’s shit. Complexitism, Administrativism, and Kerryism are diseases that infected every losing presidential for a long, long time (I think Carter may be the exception, but he seemed to be the tonic for Watergate) including Dole, Bush I, Dukakis (even worse than Bush I), Mondale, etc. etc.
The Republicans also presented a vision for their Congressional campaign in 1994.
I’m still waiting for the Democrats to allow a candidate with a vision–even if it isn’t perfect–through their circular firing squad.