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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Break U.S. mold for president

BY GERALD BAZER
Gerald Bazer Gerald Bazer
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ALREADY we are reading in The Blade and New York Times that John Edwards, Bill Frist, and Hillary Clinton are possible candidates for the 2008 presidential nominations. One Times article even mentioned the Iowa caucuses. Did we not just leave Iowa?

Since we are beginning to look toward 2008, and with the 2004 election still in mind, allow me to ask why in choosing the presidential candidates, do we rarely, if ever, break the mold on the type of candidates chosen. Let me explain.

We have have had 42 individuals as president. (George W. Bush is the 43rd president, but Grover Cleveland served two separate times.) All have been white males. All but one, John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, have been Protestant. Only two, John F. Kennedy and our own Ohioan, Warren G. Harding, have come directly from the U.S. Senate; only one, our own James A. Garfield, came directly from the House of Representatives.

Women, non-whites, non-Protestants, senators, representatives, and other groups to be discussed have been excluded from the pantheon of presidents.

That this should be the case involves at least two serious considerations: first, simple equity in a country philosophically based on equity, and second, the assumption that we require the best possible individuals as presidents, and to attain that, no group of qualified people should be excluded from consideration.

Comprising 51 percent of the population, women now hold leadership positions from which men have moved to the presidency in the past: governor, CEO, ranking military officer, etc. Yet nary a woman is given serious consideration for a party's nomination. With the exception of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, no woman has received a vice presidential nomination either.

While I might not wish to vote for either one of them, wouldn't a race in 2008 between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Condoleezza Rice be fascinating?

In considering women, one might want to look at other countries around the world, which often are not thought to be "civilized" as we are, yet have had women as chief executives.

As mentioned above, only one non-Protestant president, has been elected president. A second, John Kerry, came close in November, but this is presidential politics, not horseshoes.

Beyond Catholics, there has been no Jewish president, though Joseph Lieberman did make an aborted run in 2004 and was Al Gore's running mate in 2000.

With no Jew and one Catholic, need we even discuss the chances of a Muslim or, for that matter, an atheist? Despite the Constitution's clear separation of church and state, and despite the fact that the Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were not the most religious in the strict sense of the word, the chances of an atheist becoming president are somewhat below Harold Stassen from our past and Ralph Nader from our present.

As to race, we've not had a serious party candidate either African-American or Latino. Certainly, names such as Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Bill Richardson have surfaced, but for varying reasons never got nominated.

Interestingly, Barack Obama, an African-American, has been mentioned, yet he has just taken a seat in the Senate. Regardless of Senator Obama's obvious talents, are we so bereft of worthy minorities that a relative newcomer stands the best chance?

One begins to wonder by citing the above groups what percentage of Americans has already been eliminated. However, let me add other groups.

Only two presidents were single when elected - James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland - and the latter was married in the White House. We appear to want to elect not only a president but a spouse as well. Note all the attention given to the wives of George Bush and John Kerry.

As to senators and representatives, perhaps there are valid reasons for their difficulty in attaining the presidency in contrast to state governors. After all, the former are legislative positions and the latter is an executive position. Also, as seen in 2004, a legislator's record is right out there, easy to attack.

A frivolous group to cite are gentlemen with facial hair. Since 1888, (Ohioan Benjamin Harrison and his beard) and 1908 (Ohioan William Howard Taft and his mustache), no president has had facial hair.

In 1948 we almost had a president with a mustache, but Thomas Dewey lost to Harry Truman in the biggest upset in presidential election history. It did not help that Dewey's 1948 mustache reminded us of Adolf Hitler's 1945 mustache.

We may recall that after the 2000 election, Al Gore disappeared and reappeared with a beard. Observers wrote him off for 2004. Then he disappeared again and reappeared clean-shaven. Some thought that meant he'd run, but...

Having facial hair may, however, not be a detriment, if a candidate shaves the hair off and, if necessary, pastes it on his head. Since Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956, there has not been one bald president. And in 1952 and 1956 Eisenhower's opponent was Adlai Stevenson, also bald.

Much more seriously, and despite statutes against disability discrimination in employment, does anyone believe that we'd elect Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy with their ailments if we knew then what we know now, particularly with a more intrusive media than in the past?

Another group disqualified from the presidency are United States citizens born abroad. This is stipulated in Article II of the Constitution. As articles and letters in The Blade have shown, there is some thought to amending the Constitution to change this although there is sentiment that only a natural born citizen remain eligible.

As a nation of immigrants with immigrants throughout our history who have been responsible for major accomplishments for our country's welfare, should we truly continue the restriction? Would anyone argue that Alexander Hamilton, not born in the United States, but who established the foundation for much of what America is today, would not have made a worthy presidential candidate?

It was the Know-Nothing Party, after all, which angrily wished to greatly restrict immigration, and that party disappeared way back in the 1850s.

I return to my thesis: For the most difficult job in the world, let us exclude individuals from presidential consideration on the basis of a lack of ability, not for extraneous reasons.

Gerald Bazer is retired dean of arts and sciences at Owens Community College.



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