Failing the Bar

“…President Bush has enjoyed working without an audience. He’s leaving a giant and growing mess when he returns the keys to his office, and frankly, if reporters kept pointing that out, we might not have any willing candidates for president.”

Our collective standards for choosing a president haven’t gotten any higher

By Elan Barnehama

I was recently surprised to discover that George W. Bush was still in office. Two years of a relentless rush to press with every nuance of primary coverage (gossip) had produced a news blackout. And then, after it was over, I barely had time to catch my breath before the six-month election campaign coverage began. The primaries were replaced with daily score sheets rating the McCain and Obama campaigns’ performance, read by newscasters who reported on the days tally. So, it was easy to see how I forgot, or just didn’t remember. Besides, the way things have been going lately, it’s not hard to understand why I felt like no one has been in charge.

The thing is, though, I’m pretty sure President Bush has enjoyed working without an audience. He’s leaving a giant and growing mess when he returns the keys to his office, and frankly, if reporters kept pointing that out, we might not have any willing candidates for president. Unless of course, those candidates and their supporters had a way to benefit from the mess. But what true patriotic citizen would do that?

Anyway, my amnesia was cured when I saw Ohio Representative and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich on the floor of Congress asking his colleagues to consider a resolution to impeach President Bush. As he read his list of charges of illegal wars, torture, attacks on civil liberties, corruption, firing U.S. attorneys, lying to Congress, etc., Kucinich seemed unconcerned that hearings would point out the Democrat’s complicity in the Bush abuses. This could be interesting, I thought as I listened. Maybe the Democrats really wanted to raise the bar for how future presidents should behave and were willing to take the hit. Maybe they wanted to do the right thing and halt the astronomic increase in and abuse of presidential powers. That’s when Speaker Nancy Pelosi came charging in to the rescue and with one swift proclamation, that the impeachment was “off the table.” That’ll show President Bush. That certainly put the fear of Congress in the current presidential candidates.

So it was on to the general election for me. And while it’s been a (very) long time since I’ve been surprised that the political bar could get any lower, apparently eating at a salad bar set a new benchmark for just how low it can go. For some reason, finding out that Senator Obama is not someone who would be comfortable at salad bar caught me off guard. As I’ve pointed out in these pages, the last two elections were decided by picking who we wanted to have a beer with, and we chose the alcoholic. This time apparently we want our candidates to make the right choice between low fat ranch and creamy garlic.

Sure, I’d love to have a beer with Bush or a salad with McCain or go bowling with Obama. I’d even enjoy puffing on a stogie with President Clinton. But I don’t really care if I’m comfortable eating with my president. I don’t care if I like them, am like them, or if they like me. I do care if my president understands Constitutional Law. Even better if they adhere to the Constitution. I would hope that my president was among our brightest citizens and was overflowing with integrity.

But maybe the salad bar comment was just a Republican appeal for those salad-eating, up-for-grabs, swing-voting Hillary’s girls. Maybe John McCain is the real women’s candidate, and he has the right amount of condiments to prove it.

Elan Barnehama is a writer living in Western Massachusetts. He has taught at several colleges and was, most recently, a Senior Writer for Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His commentaries have aired on public radio and appeared in newspapers. E-mail Elan at:

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