Historically, we Americans have been among the world's most optimistic people. Why? One reason could be that every American, with the exception of those whose ancestors were already here when Columbus arrived or those whose ancestors were brought here in chains, is either herself an immigrant or the direct lineal descendant of immigrants. To be an immigrant — to leave family, friends and familiar places; to dare to strike out across the sea or the continent to a foreign place; to live among people you have never seen; to speak a language you have never heard — is an act requiring enormous human courage. But being an immigrant is also a testament to optimism that here, in this blessed country, we are free to improve our lives and the lives of those who follow us.
That special American optimism has influenced our political choices of national leaders. Even after a president sorely disappoints us, we somehow remain confident that we will find in the next leader the qualities missing in the flawed predecessor. Think about it: Richard Nixon, after serving in the U.S. House, the Senate and two terms as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, may have been our most experienced and credentialed president. After the criminality and corruption of Watergate and Nixon's resignation in disgrace, in the next election came former one-term Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, lacking in Washington experience and promising never to lie to the American people.
But Carter, a conscientious, intelligent and honorable man facing economic problems, seemed to change his mind a lot. So, in 1980, voters, looking for the opposite, chose the ideological leader of the nation's minority party, Republican Ronald Reagan, who had not changed his mind since 1962.
President George H.W. Bush, who essentially "won Ronald Reagan's third term," faced rough economic seas in his reelection, and when the president appeared confounded by an electronic scanner at a grocery checkout counter, voters doubted their president understood the hard times they were enduring. Enter Democrat Bill Clinton telling voters "I feel your pain." Voters found the empathetic, connected leader they were then looking for.
After eight years of Clinton, by a 2-to-1 margin, American voters judged their nation to be "headed in the right direction," and the president enjoyed a 65 percent favorable job rating. Yet an electorate, disappointed and angry by disclosures of the president's lies, self-indulgence and adultery in the White House, responded to George W. Bush's promise to "restore dignity to the Oval Office."
You get the point. So, what about 2020? When the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll asked Americans whether Donald Trump has "the right temperament to be president," by more than 3-1, voters said no. When asked whether Trump was "knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency," voters again answered no by 2-1. On being "steady and reliable," voters answered no by 2-1, and on "dealing with an international crisis," Trump received a 2-1 negative response from the voters. American voters are exhausted from the controversies, the outbursts, the haranguing and the intemperance which have characterized this presidency.
So, what do the Democratic candidates in their last debate before Super Tuesday do? They bicker; they shout; they talk over one another; they yell —- exactly what the voters do not want in 2020. The only two exceptions from this vantage point were the two former mayors, Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg, who lowered the emotional thermostat and spoke in audible but not relentlessly abrasive language. Believe me; voters in 2020 are not looking to replace Donald Trump with a Democratic version of the incumbent. We want someone who has demonstrated competence, knowledge and maturity. We want someone who does not need to be on Twitter, on TV and in our faces 24/7. We're looking for what's missing — not for more of the same.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.