This year, the US is faced with once again choosing a president, something they do every four years. Many have complained about the quality of the candidates this year, some lamenting that we do not have Ronald Reagan on the ballot, or some other favorite from the past. We often wish we had someone with the potential to be a "great" president. That is commendable, as far as it goes, but I am bothered that we use the term "great" with little thought to its meaning. Usually, it means only "someone who agrees with me on the 'issues'" and little more than that. Let us remember, however, that being president is about a whole lot more than expressing opinions on "the issues." Many people who are "right" on every issue, are unqualified to be president for a host of other reasons. In that light, let's look at a list of qualities that are minimally necessary for a president to be "great."
1) An effective leadership style. In the past, presidents have failed to achieve greatness often because they could not lead. They may have had great ideas, and wanted to achieve worthwhile things (or perhaps not), yet they could do little since no one would follow them. John Quincy Adams was one such, as was Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. All three failed to achieve much while in office because they could not lead. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson both acheieved quite a bit while in office because they knew how to get people to "buy in" to thier plans and make them reality. These were two very different men, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and they had very different leadership styles, but they both found styles that worked for them. A great president (or a terrible one, too) must find a leadership style that gets things done, or he will be a mediocrity at best (and that is not a bad thing for the country, if the president is a bad man).
2) A political philosophy that is oriented toward justice and freedom and the rule of law.
No president can be great if his goals are unjust, or whose policies inhibit freedom too severely, or who does not respect the rule of law. The "rule of law" means that the law itself is supreme, not the people who administer it. No president, or other government officer has the right to circumvent the law in order to accomplish his goals. (This is one reason why the so called "gay marriage" thing is evil. Judges are creating a new "right" that is not expressed in any constitution and which has never been passed by any legislature. They are putting their own agenda ahead of what the law itself says). A president who seeks to rule by decree, rather than seeing his responsibility as merely to "execute the law" is a bad president. Al Gore would have made a bad president, on this score. In his 2000 race, he kept promising what HE would do, and often it was things the president canno do, without the legislature enabling it. For example he said he would put Social Security in a "lockbox" so that no one's benefits would ever be cut. HE would do this? He hasn't the power, and besides, under the law, no one's benefits can be cut, unless the legislature passes a new law and the president signs it, or if he vetoes it, the legislature overrides the veto. Gore had the idea that justice comes from the man who administers it, not from the law which guarantees it. Don't vote for anyone who has this way of thinking.
3) A solid moral foundation in his own life.
A great president must be also a good man. He must be able to keep his committments, thus having a reputation for being personally reliable. He must be oriented toward goodness--that is he must like good things and avoid bad ones. (A president who drinks, gambles, philanders, steals, lies, etc. is automatically not a "great" president.). He must naturally gravitate toward good people, and enjoy the good things of life. (His hobby may be gardening, or golf, or fishing, or whatever, but it must not be gambling, or porn movies, or cock fighting). If you want to know the quality of a president, look at his lawyer. If the guy is sleazy, the president is sleazy; if the guy is a serious professional, honest, respectful of the law, then the president will be too.
4) Executive experience Normally, governors or business leaders have more potential for effectiveness as president than Senators and Congressmen. Senators have often sought the office (and this election we will elect one, certainly), but they are rarely great presidents.
5) Good communication skills These days, especially, a president must be able and willing to communicate. Many of President Bush's problems stem from the fact that he rarely makes speeches, rarely hold news conferences, and if often less than effective when he does. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, could make a speech, and Congressmen would be flooded with letters from their consituents that week urging them to vote for what Reagan wanted! It worked, certainly. These five are certainly not exhaustive, but they are a start. (Note that there is nothing of partisanship here. I have NOT said, "A great president affirms this policy or agrees with me on that issue." That has been deliberate. I want to be objective here.) I invite anyone to add to this list or to comment on it. Let me know, especially if there are specific things I have missed.