Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Those who would be president fail to impress the next generation

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

One of the great things about the holidays is that I get to spend some time with the younger representatives of family and friends – the twentysomethings who are about to become thirtysomethings – who are living in Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Washington or seemingly light years from their hometowns of Dover or New Philadelphia.

Call it a landslide: They are not happy with Mitt or Newt or any of the other Republican choices for president.
Do they like President Barack Obama? Well, not really, but no one has shown them anything better.

The Republicans, they say, seem to miss the point, which is all about the economy and the future and nothing about gay marriage or whether the candidates might have engaged in indiscretions in their youth.

“Who’d want to run for president?” one of the young ones asked during a kitchen table discussion. “Would Jack Kennedy have run for president today? Or Franklin Roosevelt?”

It’s an interesting question.

Franklin Roosevelt with the help of the media did a pretty good job of hiding his handicap from the American people. In the 24 hours after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt tended to the task of writing a speech while getting treated – with cocaine – for a nasal infection and strategizing that long walk to the podium in the capitol, according to producer/writer/director Anthony Giacchino, whose special “Pearl Harbor” aired on the History Channel earlier this month. Giacchino’s documentary provides an hour-by-hour look at the 24 hours following the attack.

Roosevelt couldn’t walk. But with the help of braces, a cane and his son James he was able to provide to the American people the illusion of walking. Certainly Americans would demand their leader to be strong. And crippled wasn’t strong.

Kennedy’s indiscretions became well-documented in the aftermath of his death, as did his health problems and subsequent issues with the drugs used to treat him (not to mention his ties to the Mafia). While the media didn’t turn a blind eye in the 1950s and 1960s, it was arguably easier to hide such matters in a world not strewn with today’s technological resources.

So, one could argue that both of these leaders might have decided against a presidential run given the same set of circumstances and if their lives were somehow catapulted well into the future.

And despite their shortcomings and/or misgivings, the American people still consider Roosevelt and Kennedy to possess the trait that seems so lacking in Mitt, Newt and even Barack – the ability to lead us as a country and not as members of one political party or another, or of one ideology or another.

The young people are OK. They’re just looking for a leader. And by the way, it’s the economy, stupid.

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to quit making fun of all things Ohio. All of us do that, you know, especially those of us who root for those pro sports teams that hail from Cleveland. But beyond sports, we can be pretty downright mean about what we say about the Buckeye State especially during our wonderful winter months. (They’re coming and I’m trying.)

Former Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz alerted her Facebook friends to a piece entitled “The Geography of Stuck” in the online version of Atlantic Cities magazine.

Author Richard Florida said there is a percentage of the population that believes it is stuck in a less than desirable part of the country, which is everywhere except the East and West coasts and the Rocky Mountain region.

Bah humbug to writer-researcher Florida, says Julie Irwin Zimmerman of Cincinnati.

“When I moved to Ohio, which Florida cites as the third most ‘stuck’ state in America, I, like Florida, assumed many people lived here because they lacked the chance to move somewhere better,” wrote Zimmerman in the magazine.

“I thought at the time I’d be here two years, maybe three, before moving onto the next opportunity.
“Fifteen years later I’m still in Cincinnati, which has one of the highest rates of native-born residents in any urban area of the U.S. So many Cincinnatians were born here that when people ask you where you went to school, they’re referring to high school, not college. And in my years here, I’ve begun to understand why so many natives stay put, or leave the area for just a few years and then return.

“They’re not stuck. They're content.”

Zimmerman cites the reasonable cost of housing, relatively short commutes and “the social capital built up by living among the people you’ve grown up with…

“The ties people have to their families and neighbors here are worth forgoing many of the economic opportunities other cities may offer.”

The negative? Zimmerman says change is “maddeningly slow,” which nails my biggest complaint about our little corner of the world. The visionaries seem to be held in low esteem, a problem that hinders our cultural and institutional growth.

Nonetheless, I think we have something to build on in 2012. Perhaps we can get rid of some of that negativity and figure out how to get the important things done.

Don’t ask why. Ask why not.

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