The ominous attack ads pouring out of the Obama and Romney campaigns highlight an important question: What qualities do Americans desire in a president?
Does President Obama’s taxpayer-funded investment in bankrupt Solyndra disqualify him from a second term? Does Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital disqualify him from the presidency because one of his portfolio companies went bankrupt?
Of course, neither example is disqualifying — or even relevant. We are a nation built on risk and reward, and any leader will make mistakes. While we can debate the legitimacy of government picking winners and losers or laws that allow companies to declare bankruptcy after paying owners dividends, the same can’t be done for Solyndra and GST Steel. While they garner great press, neither is even marginally relevant to the qualification of either presidential candidate.
To paraphrase President Clinton, both candidates are qualified to be president based on their experience. Both candidates are men of significance, and while one could have questioned Obama’s 2008 candidacy, he has now had more than three years of actual experience as president. And Mitt Romney is also qualified, having served as Massachusetts’ governor, headed the Olympics and created and run a successful private equity firm.
But even if one candidate has more relevant experience than the other, experience isn’t the only quality Americans are looking for. As a CEO involved in hiring, I see hundreds of resumes for candidates whose experience alone would make them viable candidates to work at our company. As an employer I know that a resume is simply the hurdle to the interview — the interview seals the job. Interviews reveal intangibles that make the difference between a good candidate and a great one.
Obviously, in November we are not simply hiring a potential employee; we are collectively selecting the leader of the greatest country in the world. So I keep asking myself which candidate will be best for our nation. I know we all define what’s “best” for our nation differently, perhaps selfishly. Some may define what’s best for our nation as doing what’s best for preserving our comfort and lifestyle today. I would hope that today’s citizens define it as our parents did — as making sacrifices today so that we can leave a stronger and better nation to our children.
I ask myself which of the two candidates is willing to ask for sacrifice. President Obama has not yet asked the vast majority of Americans to make any sacrifice. Yes, he has sought sacrifice from the “one percent” and maintained our military operations, causing our brave soldiers to sacrifice life and limb. As for Romney, it is unknown whether he would ask Americans to sacrifice. The willingness to ask for and get sacrifice is part of the chemistry of a true leader. Anyone can give gifts, especially with borrowed money. It takes a real leader to inspire sacrifice for future generations.
Presidential leadership requires a willingness to move a nation. It requires conviction, passion and a certain moxie that inspires others. It also requires trust. Sadly, our political process, with its mix of harsh advertising, “gotcha” politics and a 24-hour news cycle ravenous for any misstep, will destroy our trust in both candidates before the election. In Washington, twisting the truth becomes second nature as media outlets and chattering pundits begin to believe the fabrications they create. I once had a senior employee who did this; as effective of a worker as he was, my distrust of him made our work relationship futile. The same goes for politics. Americans deserve a president who will hold firm to truth.
The truth is that we have promised more to our retired, our students, our disabled, our unemployed, our veterans and so many others, including our allies, than we could ever possibly deliver. The numbers don’t lie, and they are increasingly difficult to ignore. The next president must be willing to ask for sacrifice to address the impending financial cliffs before we fall off them.
This will require leadership. I am hopeful that whoever wins in November will be a true leader — an honest person who asks for and inspires the type of sacrifice the next generation deserves.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”