A President Is Not a Savior

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I’m not sure what to think about the charge that Mitt Romney bullied and maybe traumatized a student at his prep school. It’s a terrible story–but it was a long time ago.Today Romney seems like a solid family man who, from what I can tell, treats people well, even if he might have a latent temper. (But show me ten high-powered politicians and I’ll show you six or eight mean streaks. Obama may be mellow, but Bill Clinton, for one, isn’t exactly Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).

Obsessing about episodes from the long-ago past, however, strikes me as a bad way to think about choosing a President. There’s too much obsessing in general, really: We’re not choosing a king, nor a Doomsday survivor who will emerge to repopulate the earth with his genetic material. We’re choosing someone who gets a rather short four years to arm-wrestle with Congress (and perhaps be smacked down by the Supreme Court); who will likely be guided and confined by the political norms and power players of his party, and the flukes of history, and the whims of a scatterbrained public. We should spend at least as much time talking about who will bang the gavels in the next House and Senate as we do about old love letters and family vacations.

Character does matter. You can’t understand a candidate based on his platform alone; platforms are often smokescreens, blown away by the realities of governing and world events. But we’re wrong to see a new President as a savior (or an arch-villain). We should keep the role-and the life of that one, small, inevitably flawed person in perspective.

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