Stonecipher: Americans Have Lost Sight On Who Should Be President
Political antics have already begun to flare up ahead of the 2016 presidential race which is widely anticipated to be between Democratic former First Lady and Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The sparring right now is primarily centered in New Jersey where the mayors of Hoboken and Fort Lee have alleged the Republican governor of playing political hardball with Hurricane Sandy rebuilding funds and with George Washington Bridge traffic.
Whether or not Christie is guilty of bullying these communities with Democrat mayors, Christie has had a reputation of working to get his way. Even Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher knows of Christie’s tendencies that date back to even before the Republican ran for governor.
And now that he’s the favorite Republican for the White House, it’s reared its ugly head in the national headlines.
Stonecipher told 710 KEEL this is nothing new and will be a problem for him in 2016, “I don’t think most people, especially people in the South, are going to come away feeling good about that and now people are seeing an example of that.”
Stonecipher said it is obvious that Christie was involved in “Bridgegate” and other political activities because of who committed these acts.
“People who work around, much less directly for, any political personality, especially one as bombastic as Chris Christie, what they know is staff does not do things that they don’t believe that person agrees with,” said Stonecipher. “You just don’t do it. With folks like that, you lose your job if you do it and everybody knows that.”
However, what could be more curious is the timing of the allegations. Stonecipher pointed to another issue that should be getting some focus.
“We found out at the same time as this was happening, coincidentally, that the long awaited Justice Department investigation into the IRS targeting conservatives, we finally found out who was in charge,” shared Stonecipher. “The person is a lady who has given Barack Obama just under $7,000 in political contributions. That means the president picked that lady because he wanted to send a message via Eric Holder to the political right. The message was: to hell with y’all.”
Stonecipher continued, “Chris Christie, at the same time, is messing around with something as fundamental as traffic, as school buses getting through, ambulances getting through. My point is this: we have lost sight in America of the fact that very few people are qualified to be president.”
“Very few people have, frankly, the temperament to be president,” explained Stonecipher. “Barack Obama was nowhere near prepared to be president. The country is paying for that. Chris Christie is nowhere near prepared to be president. We need to move past them.”
But Hofstra University Associate Professor of Journalism and former New York Newsday reporter Peter Goodman disagrees about what qualifies as being a leader.
“Chris Christie was a very effective leader,” retorted Goodman. “After [Hurricane] Sandy, he was everywhere. He was superb. One of the reasons that he was so popular was that he did such a good job of projecting confidence and concern, and even a degree of empathy and compassion. I’d say he was more effective than [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo. [New York City Mayor Mike] Bloomberg wasn’t bad, but Christie was superb.”
Goodman also said President George W. Bush was an effective leader, “He was able to articulate a particular position and particular policies and the people around him were able to push those policies very well.”
“The difference with Obama is his speeches and his commentary are more complex and more thoughtful and doesn’t have the kind of resonance like Bush’s speaking or Clinton. Bill Clinton was a really good speaker,” Goodman continued. “He was able to communicate very well and very charmingly and as a result he was an effective leader.”
The Shreveport political analyst said this issue is not with one or two popular politicians. It’s a systemic problem with the American political process.
“There are a lot more people out there that seem, at least on paper and from what we can observe, much more qualified,” Stonecipher added. “That’s a lesson we gotta learn. Quit with the star power and let’s get back to who can govern this very divided country.”
There isn’t one person to blame for how the nation has progressed to the point Stonecipher describes the nation to have reached. The problem, he said, is that our leaders haven’t been tested.
“We’ve had it way too easy in America. The people you want to lead this country are people who have been tested by things like the Great Depression. Things like World War II,” elaborated Stonecipher. “These are people who understand what is hanging in the balance. They lived it, they survived it, they were completely shaped by it, most importantly they were matured by it. In those people, there is a chance of true, and spectacular in some cases, leadership.”
The Shreveport demographer continued that while the past 70 years or so have been relatively easygoing for Americans, the nation hasn’t truly been tested to have what Stonecipher describes as a true leader to develop.
“People who have never had it anything but easy don’t make good leaders because they are absolutely handicapped. They only know the view of the world that is rah-rah and cheerleaders and technology and the rest of that,” said Stonecipher. “They don’t know nothing about the downside risks to a country like America.”
“I read [a] piece recently talking about how politicians are sometimes criticized for not having any executive experience when they get into office and that’s one thing that Obama’s been criticized for,” Goodman told 710 KEEL. “But this particular piece was arguing that it’s nonsense. You don’t need experience if you know how to work with people.’
“John F. Kennedy didn’t have any executive experience; he was a single term senator,” continued Goodman. “Now, Lyndon B. Johnson was the consummate politician, he knew how to work the system better than anybody and he really accomplished a lot.”
The journalism professor then looked at the two previous presidents.
“Was Bill Clinton prepared for it? Was George W. Bush prepared for it?” Goodman rhetorically asked. “He was the governor of Texas; that’s a part-time job. The legislature meets a few months a year. The governor is a weak governor who doesn’t particularly have much authority. How was he prepared for it?”
“George H.W. Bush was a professional politician,” continued Goodman. “He’d been vice president and he comes from a long political line. There’s a New England Yankee tradition of public service that he had. He was ready for that.”
Goodman then returned his attention to President Obama.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say of Obama that he wasn’t prepared for it,” said Goodman. “I think partly that nobody is prepared for it. Joe Biden might be prepared for it, but I don’t think he would be all that great of a president. Would Mitt Romney have been prepared for it? I don’t think so. And certainly none of the other Republican candidates would have been prepared for it.”
Last month, the Shreveport political analyst pointed to Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) as a candidate the Republicans should push towards the White House. He explained that Ayotte is different than many of the other front-runners for the nomination.
“I mentioned Kelly Ayotte so positively because she is married to a war veteran,” Stonecipher told 710 KEEL. “She is also someone when you read her biography there is nothing in there like you would find in a George W. Bush biography, or in the Bill Clinton biography, or in the Hillary Clinton biography, or particularly the Barack Obama biography. There is nothing in her biography that sets off alarms about the kinds of experiences she’s had growing and what the influence was from her parents and others of her family.”
One of the biggest factors he also considers is putting a woman on the ticket, not just to pander to voters, but to give a different sector of the population a chance to solve the nation’s troubles.
“I think the men have fouled things up enough for us to look almost as a default. Not to anyone based on race, but I think to gender. I think it’s time to find out how women in extraordinary circumstances govern,” Stonecipher explained. “I have an instinctive belief that they would govern better and that they would have a much, much greater heart than they have a lot of awful things aggressive.”
Last month, Stonecipher said Hillary Clinton would not be a good option for that role because he described her politicking as “rah-rah”, much like the politics we see today. While Democrats are pushing for a Clinton presidential run, Stonecipher said she isn’t the Democrats’ best option either.
When asked about what sort event or quality Stonecipher looks for to meet his leadership qualification, he pointed to September 11th.
“We have to find things like Rudy Giuliani in 9/11 to start understanding the markers we are looking for,” Stonecipher explained. “Look at Harry Reid, look at Nancy Pelosi, look at Barack Obama, look at a lot of people like Chris Christie in the Republican Party. What you see are people who, frankly, they just turned into professional politicians.”
But Goodman cautioned lauding the former New York City mayor has a hero.
“Giuliani… the most important thing Giuliani did was being very good in public as seeming to be in charge and controlled. Not panicked, not worried,” Goodman explained. “But in fact, he didn’t do much. Before 9/11, he had really lost his popularity in New York City. The thing that made him a national figure was what he did on 9/11 and what he did on 9/11 was appear to be a leader in public.”
Goodman did agree with Stonecipher about one national politician, “[Harry] Reid is a terrible leader. At least as the public is concerned, he’s boring. His tone of voice is not particularly effective. He’s a good politician and he’s been able to get himself elected in a hostile environment over and over again, but he’s not the sort of guy who stands out.”
The former New York Newsday reporter put the Obama presidency in context.
“Since Obama came into office, he was in a crisis,” said Goodman. “He came into office when the economy was collapsing. I think that his policies essentially stabilized the economy. It’s not where it was, but it’s a helluva lot better than where it could have been. I certainly think he’s been tested by crisis.”
And Goodman says Republicans haven’t really helped the problem, “The attacks on him from before he was elected have been incessant. They never let up. From the moment he was elected, Mitch McConnell said Republicans’ number one job was guarantee that Obama was not reelected in 2012. He said that in 2008. That means the Republican leadership was not interested in working with Obama from the very beginning. He’s had to deal with an extreme problem.”
However, the professor doesn’t see Obama as a perfect politician.
“I don’t think that he’s all that great of a politician,” Goodman told 710 KEEL. “From what I’ve read, he’s aloof, he is not all that congenial, he has not reached out very effectively or consistently to members of Congress. I read a statistic a couple of days ago that he’s gone golfing with his buddies a hundred times and he’s gone golfing with John Boehner only once. A good politician would have gone golfing with John Boehner a lot more times.”
How did a nation like the United States go from having historic and great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to electing what Stonecipher describes as non-leaders?
“I think the real problem is that Americans don’t invest in the process, they would much rather follow a star and that’s Barack Obama. There will never be a better model,” answered Stonecipher. “They didn’t want to find out if he should be president, they wanted their thinking done for them.”
The Shreveport demographer and political analyst continued, “What we did was we had it so easy we sold out to a news media to tell us what we need to know, a news media that is in the business of making money. We should never do that.”
Stonecipher explained the mistake, “We look to, of all things, the entertainment industry to tell us who might be qualified for elected office. That is why all of this is on the shoulders of the people of America. We can get all fired up about who the president is, or who a Chris Christie is, or, gosh, who a Bobby Jindal is, we elected them.”
Because of that lack of investment, Americans get interested in a face value, rather that the quality of a product. He compares it to American shopping habits.
“Most of America’s acculturation is really just marketing,” said Stonecipher. “It’s really just people sitting down and trying to figure out how to sell their widget to x-thousands of people. How we take how to lead a country out of that, I don’t know, but that’s the biggest mistake we could make.”
And the former Newsday reporter agreed that voters are not doing their research.
“It’s been a long time since people did research on candidates,” Goodman said. “What’s been happening is that marketing has grown more and more sophisticated. The general public hasn’t been looking carefully at candidates for a while. They’ve depended very much on image and the way a candidate is being packaged and the way a candidate is being sold is not new. What I think is new is the depth and sophistication of the statistical analysis that goes into the way candidates are being packaged.”
The Role of the News Industry
Stonecipher also looked at how the news industry has evolved over the years. He said the boomer generation grew up believing the news was to be reported, but the news has changed into an entertainment product.
“I read an editorial where a person was saying he has defaulted to watching the BBC to get the news,” Stonecipher told 710 KEEL. “Others have defaulted to public television in America to get their news. We found out as well that’s not non-partisan either. But the point is, I don’t think it’s ideological, we have to concentrate on running from marketing and remembering that what happens to the American experiment shouldn’t depend on a sales culture.”
But, Goodman says this phenomenon is not new.
“If you were to look at the TV newscasts from the 60s and into the 70s and 80s, you’ll notice that they were very different then. They were much more serious and much more somber,” the Hofstra University professor noted. “What really changed it was ABC’s concept of ‘Eyewitness News’ which got a lot of attention and a lot of old-school journalists were not happy about because it was happy talk and everyone was laughing and joking rather than straight-forwardly giving the news.”
Goodman added that old-fashioned news is mostly a thing of the past, “CNN is actually is a little bit old-fashioned and that’s one reason why CNN has low ratings.”
“One of the reasons FOX is so popular is because it has given up the idea of being unbiased and straight-forward and has made no secret of its political leanings and political direction and so the people who are on FOX News tend to be entertainers, but they are entertainers in a very specific political direction,” Goodman explained. “The same thing with MSNBC in a different direction. Both of them have more popularity than CNN because people find it more fun to listen to people who are saying the things that they already agree with.”
Stonecipher pointed to the internet as playing a very positive role in distributing alternative information to the public about things happening around town or in politics nationally.
“One of the things the internet has done is made it possible for a lot more opinion, tremendous amounts of opinion,” Goodman described. “It’s made it much harder to sift through the opinions to find the straight-forward facts. You have to be really careful when you sift through the internet to see if what you are getting is straight or slanted.”
The internet has also made news reporting much more raw.
“You can now see how the sausage is being made,” explained the Hofstra University professor. “News is being gathered and reported in real-time, with all the problems and all the screw ups and all the rumors and all the falsehoods and everything is being shown at once. You might have an idea that the media is constantly screwing up. Not really. They have to report things immediately before they can confirm it.”