NEWBURYPORT, MASS. — Get ready. As the presidential campaign moves forward into fall, mud throwing, imagemaking, and sound biting show no signs of letting up. And in the midst of all the glizty commercials, flag waving, and baby kissing, news analysts in print and on television, on the radio and the Internet, will continue to ask questions. As Americans prepare to elect a new leader, the experts will seek to sort things out, sift the statements from the misstatments, study strategy and polls.
Many of these political pundits are intelligent people who will ask and answer thoughtful and probing questions. They will determine where the candidates stand on the issues and wonder if character really does count.
Yet, unless this campaign is different from those in years past, much of the analyses will be silly, shallow, and unrelated to a person's ability to lead.
Just watch the campaign as it progresses. Watch the debates and the news analyses that follow. Much of the post-debate discussion will center on the performance of the candidate, on how he looks and acts, rather than what he had to say. Repeatedly, we've been told that Gov. George W. Bush smirks too much and Vice President Al Gore is too stiff. It's not a search for perfection, but a search for flaws.
Instead of asking if the candidates answered the questions unambiguously, we get frivolous comments on how the candidates sound, who's taller and has more hair. Instead of looking closely at how the candidates differ on positions such as the death penalty or education reform, we get an analysis of TV charm.
Every twitch, every throat-clearing, every frown will be dissected and pulled apart like the Scarecrow in the "Wizard of Oz" when the Wicked Witch of the West got ahold of him. The voters are left with the remains to screen out the senseless and look for the substance.
Substance can be found when we truly listen to what the candidates have to say. Listening to a debate on the radio gives us the chance to hear the candidate's message without the visual distraction. But most of the campaign will not be played out in debates, and when the candidates do debate, most people will watch rather than listen. It's human nature to want to see what the candidates look like. Looks have become important in political races, especially presidential races.
It goes without saying, a president should be self-assured, well groomed, and articulate. But a good leader need not be tall or handsome. It's not height nor a full head of hair that makes a good leader - it's a set of principles informed by a wealth of wisdom gained from life's lessons and a love for humanity.
A good leader should have a grasp of history and an awareness of world events and how they affect us. He or she should admit his or her mistakes and learn from them; instead of lamenting problems, seek to solve them. A good leader is a good judge of character and will surround himself or herself with decent people he or she can trust. A good leader listens carefully, teaches and inspires, often with words, but more importantly through actions.
A good leader leads calmly in times of adversity, and leads confidently, but with humility, in times of prosperity. He or she is not motivated by power, money, or fame - but by a desire to serve the people.
A great leader gives up something to lead. A great leader makes a personal sacrifice for the good of the people.
But demanding these qualities in a leader may be too much of an ideal, too high a standard for some voters.
Those who have been lied to, those who feel let down or cheated by the government, those who have lost sons or daughters for lost causes may have long ago given up hope for a good leader. But the president serves all the citizens of this country, including the jaded and the hurt. The United States needs a good leader, a great president.
As the summer draws to a close, watch the candidates.
Better yet, close your eyes and listen carefully. Try to block out the analyses, the nit-picking, and the questionable questions.
When it comes time to vote, ask yourself just one question: Is this person a good leader?
Listen for the answer and you will find it.
*Brenda McDonald is a customer correspondence writer at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society