By Donella Meadows
–January 22, 1986–
Up here in New Hampshire what we call Silly Season has started early. Jack Kemp, Pete DuPont, and Gary Hart have been going around shaking hands. We’re likely to run into George Bush at the shopping center, Sam Nunn at the town hall, Richard Gephardt at the downtown diner. They are being paraded around our rockbound little state to test out what sort of person we’ll vote for in the next Presidential election.
We New Hampshirites are used to this game. Some of us apparently relish it, since we fight tenaciously to maintain our godgiven right to the first primary in the land. But, frankly, I’m not looking forward to this round. The hoopla is fun and profitable to the state, but I’m tired of it. I wish we could have a discussion about the best possible President, rather than a circus to see who can make jokes, avoid flubs, and keep blow-dried hair in place while wearing funny hats.
I’d like, just once in my life, to have a chance to vote for someone I think would be a great President. But the political parties tramping around here asking for my vote aren’t likely to give me the opportunity, because to my way of thinking a great President is not a creature of a political party or a fabrication of an election campaign.
I’m looking for someone who is willing to speak to me without being coached by public relations experts. Someone who is presented as a human being, not marketed like a new flavor of Coke. Someone who can admit to making a mistake, whose shoes are not perfectly polished, who can get mad, who thinks out loud, who can answer a question by saying, “I don’t know. I’ll do my best to find out.”
I’d like a candidate who is not pledged to promote just one way of looking at things, not just the Republican or Democratic way or even my way. I’d like someone who can be President of all of us, who listens not just the right or the left, but who realizes that there’s some truth and a lot of exaggeration in every point of view, and who knows how to search out the truth.
It would help if this candidate had a stand, a moral, not ideological, stand, one that he or she had come to through experience and reflection, a stand so thoroughly integrated with the candidate’s identity that he or she could never be false to it, no matter what the pressures. The sort of stand for freedom that Thomas Jefferson had. The stand for union of a Lincoln. The stand for equity of a Martin Luther King.
I’d like to vote for someone who wants to win in order to serve the people and the nation, not one who wants to win in order to win.
I’d like someone who knows not just about politics and factions, but about the world, other peoples and cultures, the thoughts and dreams of the 94% of humanity who happen not to be born in the United States. I’d like my candidate to know about the rest of the world not just from books, not from advisors, but from having been there.
I want a President who can see beyond the statistics, who can identify with housewives and farmers, steelworkers and small businessmen, the unemployed and the inner-city poor, as real people, not just as voting blocs.
The candidate I’d vote for would treasure the environment and the resources of our country — the soils and waters and air, and also the human beings, and expecially the children — and would realize that in them, not in weapons and threats, is our national security.
Most important, I’d vote for a person who not only speaks the rhetoric of peace, but who deeply understands what peace means. A person who enters negotiations not for show, but to come to agreement. A person who defends the interests, security, and pride of this nation, but realizes that no international order can persist that does not serve the interests, security, and pride of all nations.
As I write down this list of ideals, which I keep in my heart but never speak about in public, all the normal denials are coming up. There is no person with all these qualities. If there were such a person, he or she would not be chosen by our nominating process. And if by chance someone like that were nominated for President, he or she would not be elected.
I wonder if all these knee-jerk negatives are true. If they are, I might as well go into hibernation until Silly Season is over, and then cast a lukewarm vote for one of the public-relations creations the parties serve up to me.
But if there’s even a small possibility that the 240 million souls in this awesomely powerful land could find and elect a great President, then what? Then, I guess, the thing to do is pitch in, reject the shallow posturing, ask serious questions, and get my friends and neighbors to join me in demanding that the parties, the press, and the candidates treat the election process with the dignity it deserves.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1987