Although the presidential elections are more than a year away, the campaigns are well underway. And the Republican party has established an impressive collection of candidates from which to choose their eventual nominee. Among them are a female candidate, an African-American, a Republican icon, a former vice president and the son of a president.
Not one of these candidates belongs in office, however.
Despite the distinct qualifications that each has, they all have equally distinct characteristics that are undesirable in a presidential candidate.
Underneath their facades exist candidates with serious drawbacks.
Elizabeth Dole is the first woman to run a campaign with enough potential to earn the presidency. The wife of former Sen. Bob Dole, as well as the former president of the American Red Cross and former Transportation and Labor Secretary, she has some credentials enviable by the other candidates.
But her marketable attributes end at that superficial description. She has neither competed for nor been elected to public office. Her public appearances are scripted and choreographed to compensate for her feigned and cumbersome behavior with the handshaking public. In 1996, the public voted against another candidate with a similar uneasiness — her husband.
And her gender is unlikely to capture any votes from Democratic women. Her social conservatism and pro-life status deter many women from sacrificing their beliefs for their gender. Even Harvard Law School seems reluctant to advertise the fact that she is a graduate, considering her adherence to traditional women’s roles, her phoniness and her provincial and plastic appearance.
Dan Quayle’s record is similarly impressive until his reputation is considered. His tenure at the federal government includes his infamous term as vice president to President Bush and one term each as a United States representative and senator.
Though well respected among social conservatives, other Americans respect him only for providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skits, in which he was portrayed by an 11-year-old. And few are willing to forgive him for an important transgression. While Americans might be willing to elect wrestlers, athletes and actors to office, the ability to spell is still a prerequisite.
Patrick Buchanan has been a perennial Republican presidential candidate and conservative icon. He has hosted several national political talk shows, such as Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group, Capital Gang and Pat Buchanan and Company. Buchanan was also the executive assistant to former President Nixon, a credential that does appeal to certain voters.
Though his previous attempts, and the results of last month’s Iowa straw poll, have not been very encouraging, he has cultivated a national following through his television audience. But his political inexperience and desire for a moratorium on immigration detracts even many conservatives, as do his implicit threats to seek the Reform Party’s nomination. By continuing to suggest that he might abandon the party, he undermines its strength.
Alan Keyes is one of the most serious African-American candidates to emerge from either the Republican or Democratic party. A former diplomat during the Reagan administration, Keyes possesses both a Harvard Ph.D. and convincing, articulate oratorical skills.
But even he admits that he is not running a campaign to win. Rather, he appeals to some conservatives because he considers himself to be the morally correct choice.
His credentials and skills belie his effort and the extreme conservatism of many of his beliefs. Americans are unlikely to believe that their collective loss of respect for God’s authority and their non-“marriage-based families” were the cause of the Columbine massacre or failing schools.
Unlike Bush, he is specifying his beliefs, regardless of their potential popularity and to the detriment of his campaign. While eliminating the income tax would be very popular initially, it would certainly be imprudent. Similarly, his proposal to end welfare and abortion are not likely to be attractive among different demographic groups. And public paddling — of parents — would certainly alienate some voters.
George W. Bush’s initial appearance of qualification for the presidency is a result of his governorship in Texas — one of the most politically powerful states. And the fact that he is the son of a president and the brother of another governor of a powerful state assists his efforts at organizing his potent campaign.
Bush’s early popularity is only a result of political nepotism with the help of his father and his father’s connections. This is the reason his campaign contributions have now been estimated at $50 million.
Bush is underqualified for the presidency because of his lack of political — and personal — accomplishments. His governorship, like his education, was only possible because of his father’s assistance. As soon as some of his earlier business ventures were assumed entirely by himself, the results were fatal.
Some of Bush’s proposals illustrate a reluctance to fully consider their effects. His preference for religious-based organizations to assume charitable roles from government ignores the fact that social services should not be affiliated with proselytizing. His desire to deny federal money to the most unsuccessful schools punishes students for failure that the schools aren’t even responsible for.
His contrived denial of possible cocaine use is admirable, however, because at least he didn’t explicitly lie. Few voters would consider him to be disqualified for the presidency if he did admit to using cocaine, but it should still be considered. It is certainly relevant if a presidential candidate has broken laws, even if they agreed not to do so again. Our judicial system has consequences for those who do, and the ideal president would not have selectively obeyed certain laws. Bush also defends his behavior as “youthful indiscretions.” Presidents, though, as leaders of 280 million people, should have lived mistake-free lives.
While Bush is the current favorite of many polls, the election is over a year away. Unfortunately for the Republican party, some of its candidates, like Dole or Keyes, could have had important historical implications. But to elect any of them would bestow the presidency on an unqualified candidate.
Dan Maruska’s column appears on alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]