Being Presidential

Sappy girl movies were never my thing, but there were a handful that I watch repeatedly – Love Actually, Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Sabrina (the Harrison Ford one), and The American President.  Bit of a British obsession as the first three indicate…

One of the most memorable exchanges in The American President is between President Andrew Shepherd and Leon Kodak:

Leon:  “Yes, sir.  But it can be, sir.  What you did tonight was very presidential.”

President Andrew Shepherd:  “Leon, somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor’s working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job… because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least presidential thing I do.”

Being presidential.  If only our current candidates could grasp the definition of what it is and what it is not to be presidential like movie writers can.  Oh, it’s naïve and not so logical to expect that to happen, but shouldn’t we as Americans aspire for our President and future predecessors to behave presidential – inspire for us as Americans to seek to encourage good and hope in one another.

This presidential season something is amiss. Maybe the general state of discontent in the country.  Maybe the candidates (likely). Maybe I have changed – since the last election, my life has changed.

Last election cycle, Goose was a toddler.  Chicken had just made her debut.  In 2012, I was just starting to see the world through the eyes of my children.  At their ages now, I am keenly aware of their environment.  They are sponges absorbing the words and emotions of those around them – the country around them.

Goose and I at the Statue of Liberty in 2011

I was probably Goose’s age when I really became aware of President Reagan.  Whether you agreed with their political views or not, I do not know that there would have ever been a time when my parents would have worried about me listening to President Reagan or President Bush speak to the American people.  For that matter (though I was older), I do not think there would have been concerned about President Clinton (well other than a couple of occasions).

Unfortunately, the current political landscape brings me great worry.  Depending on how the election shakes out, I could well find myself censoring future presidential speeches before Goose or Chicken can watch.


Since it seems challenging for our perspective leaders to determine some basics of decorum, I thought I might suggest some rules that we have set for our (small) children

(1) We don’t say stupid.

I am not quite sure how this rule came about.  While I am not so good at following this one in day to day life, at home, we do not say stupid.  It is so frustrating for me to hear kids call each other stupid.  What sort of encouragement does that offer early in life?  By not saying stupid at home, I hope that the kids learn that it is not a word to use flippantly – and definitely not something to call their classmates at school.

If only presidential candidates (or one in particular) could think of some other ways to describe those with whom they have disagreements.  I can only imagine the scolding some of the candidates might receive from my children upon hearing “stupid” being dropped every other sentence

(2) Sharing is caring.

Yes, sharing is caring.  Sharing is a simple act of kindness that we can apply in our day to day life.  Beyond the obvious sharing of toys, sharing means making space for others – in our circle of friends, on a bench, in a line, or wherever.  Make space, let others have a turn speaking, don’t interrupt.

That does not mean everybody gets the exact same amount or that life is equitable or fair.  That model has been tried around the world – it does not work.  Eventually, you end up in an oligarch state with economic disparity far worse than what we have today.

Hard work is a critical part of life.  However, we should show kindness to others and share.

(3)  We respect others.

At this age, Goose and Chicken may not be able to articulate what respect is.  However, they have learned that if they interrupt nightly book reading, their book selection will not be read.  They know that trash belongs in the garbage and not to throw things on the ground.  They are 6 and (almost) 4 years old, so they slip up, but they know what respect is.  And Chicken frequently identifies “rude” behavior.

I wonder if some of the presidential candidates know what respect is or how to apply it in daily life – or on a public stage.  It certainly does not seem like respect when the religion of others is questioned or judged.  Or when a candidate does not appear at a debate simply over a disagreement with its moderator.  Respect.

(4) We don’t lie.

Honesty.  I have a tendency to be too honest at times – or maybe better stated, I don’t soften the truth.  Honesty – without it, how do we know who each other really is?  We encourage Goose and Chicken to be honest.  Often we have to remind them to do it respectfully (see rule #3).  I do not particularly care to hear that they “hate” something – file the word “hate” along with the word “stupid.”

Often it seems the instinct is to lie when they make a mistake.  We are encouraging them to be honest about their mistakes.  We learn from mistakes, and we forgive them.

At times, this political season (or most political seasons), it seems like it is really some epic game of who can get away with the most lies.  If an entire candidacy is full of lies, how do we know who the candidate is?  Or how do we know if he or she has learned from past mistakes?

What are we teaching our kids?

I don’t know if there is a good outcome this election. I do know that if a presidential candidate cannot put on their best behavior during an election cycle, then there is little hope of it being exhibited once elected.

I hope that something will change in the next six months – maybe someone will channel their inner President Andrew Shepherd (or some other movie president) and identify what it means to be presidential.  I hope that kindness, respect, and honesty prevail.  Otherwise, Low Key and I will spend the next four years as censors, while our nation continues to become more divided and isolated from the rest of the world.



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