Guest Column

American politics at its best — and worst

August 21, 2015
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Watching the 120 candidates for the Republican nomination for president, I am reminded of the running joke I heard as a Senate staffer: “When looking into the mirror every morning, what does every Senator say to himself?” The answer: “Good morning, Mr. President.”

What possesses some of these people to run? I’ve always daydreamed of listening in on the conversations some of these candidates have with staff, who say to them, “Yes, boss, you could win. Really. Go for it!”

Instead of being frustrated with the number of candidates, we should celebrate the talent — or at least the color they bring to the dance.

The real fight will be among the very qualified (listed alphabetically): Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker.

But let’s be honest, Donald Trump is fascinating, although loathed by many. He brings levity to an otherwise awful business by speaking his mind, and he does so as any frustrated American voter does in a barroom or raucous town hall meeting. This is reminiscent of the “knock-down” affairs that were characteristic of national campaigns throughout our history.

Like it or not, Trump is America, and his appeal curiously extends way beyond his worlds of Manhattan, Atlantic City and Vegas. He is this election season’s Sarah Palin, except he’s street smart, worldly and well-established in the prevailing media. I also know he will not be the president of the United States because, at the end of the day, the majority of voters expect a much higher level of decorum from their leaders.

Another candidate was born into a family that owned and ran a pool hall/liquor store/diner in central South Carolina. Both of his parents died by the time he was 22. He adopted and raised his 13-year-old sister and was the first in his family to attend college. We will not likely call Sen. Lindsey Graham “Mr. President” as he is among the lower-tier candidates, but his concern over a sequestration and its impact on the Defense Department will keep the issue alive in 2016. Like his politics or not, his life story deserves our respect.

Ben Carson is the son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister from Detroit. His parents divorced when he was 8. But this is not your typical African-American, born-in-Detroit story. Dr. Carson attended Yale, graduated from University of Michigan Medical School and has become a hugely successful member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins. He performed the first separation of twins with a conjoined head and made the experience an excellent source of levity in his closing statement about his unusual credentials.

Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are rightly concerned about our spending. Paul’s comment about borrowing from China for our policies still haunts me — he is right. Their warnings should be heeded even though they will not be our nominee.

Kasich touted his credentials as a former chairman of the House Budget Committee that balanced the budget during his leadership. He also comes from a humble background as the son of a mailman and he has populist appeal. Some of the other candidates with smoother debating skills looked almost epicene next to his brusque style. I recall as a young House staffer his visits with my first boss, Michigan Republican Congressman Carl Pursell, in their joint effort for a balanced budget in the reconciliation debates of the early 1990s. His long record in Congress makes him a familiar face to many.

Bush and Rubio were the other adults in the room. Not seeking the limelight through catchy phrases, Bush was solid, substantive and warm. Rubio was energetic, likeable and dynamic.

The recent televised debate was wildly entertaining and deserved high ratings. The next debate will be even more important, however. It should focus less on personal animosities and take a serious look at issues that were lightly covered.

Although this year’s appropriations bills have passed out of committee, this is no easy path for FY2016 implementation by Oct. 1. The Highway Bill has stalled, an FAA reauthorization bill is looming, domestic terror continues to threaten all of us in every corner of our country, and immigration issues and race relations are at an all-time low.

One must wonder why some of the men and women running for president — Republican and Democrat — would want the job. For some it’s a wild popularity contest. They seek to remain relevant today. For others, it is pure duty. We know the difference. It’s American politics at its best — and worst.

Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.

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