PERSPECTIVE: Thick skin, tough leader

By Alex Brown, Editor-in-Chief

Every election year the rhetoric seems to get worse — an unrelenting series of shouting matches, accusations and name-calling. Even the most politically engaged tire of the mudslinging, claiming it sullies the reputation of all who dare enter the race.

As the dissonant cacophony drones on, the punch-drunk candidates aim lower, exchanging cheap shots in commercials, debates and robocalls. It seems winning the presidency requires a lot more than an idealistic vision or a charismatic personality.

This is not a bad thing. The job these candidates are vying for requires a thicker skin than any other. A great plan will go nowhere if its advocate is a timid wallflower who cannot take criticism. The win-at-all-costs mentality of the campaign ensures the eventual winner will be battle-hardened, ready for the knock-down, drag-out struggles of politics in Washington.

A tough campaign is a necessary trial by fire for wannabe presidents who will have to deal with national crises that include an increasing national debt, struggling economy and rising gas prices. As if the problems at home are not enough of a challenge, the president is tasked with representing his country to a global community in which it is very unpopular.

If a candidate cannot handle a few attack ads from his opponents, how can he be expected to stare down Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Rick Santorum drew criticism from his rivals in February for making a devil’s deal with Democrats in Michigan. The Great Lakes State’s primary is open, meaning all voters — not just registered Republicans — have a say. The former Pennsylvania senator gathered support from many Democrats, who felt a Santorum win would damage Mitt Romney, the candidate they think is the greatest threat to President Barack Obama.

Santorum lashed out with accusations of his own, saying Ron Paul’s campaign had conspired with Romney, attacking Santorum but leaving the GOP front-runner untouched. These tactics may sound like dirty tricks, but they are proof that candidates are pulling out all the stops.

If a candidate is convinced that his vision is best for the country, he should be willing to go to great lengths to vault himself into the Oval Office.

Advancing an agenda takes a firm will and a willingness to trade blows with the opposition, and that is the way our country was designed. Our government was built with checks and balances, ensuring no one entity would have an easy time imposing its will. Candidates should believe their ideas are worth fighting for, even if those fights get ugly.

Many lament this approach, longing for a simpler, more civil time when statesmen exchanged ideas in a gentlemanly fashion. Unfortunately, American history tells a vastly different story than this idealized view. One only needs to look as far as the man on our $10 bill.

Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the Treasury, was a founding father and noted American leader. He waged political battles so intense that Vice President Aaron Burr challenged him to a duel after Hamilton helped derail his New York gubernatorial campaign.

The duel took place on July 11, 1804, and Burr shot Hamilton in the torso with a .56 caliber pistol, mortally wounding him. That’s right: A vice president of the United States shot a former secretary of the Treasury over a political dispute. Is the ugly rhetoric today really so bad?

As the beauty pageant that is primary season drags on, Republican candidates will continue to make their case for the GOP’s tiara. As voters reluctantly try to sort through the clamor, they should ask themselves one question: Is the White House really the place for Miss Congeniality?

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.