Who knows who the 2020 presidential nominees will be, but …
As was wisely observed inside the world of renowned philosopher Peter Pan, “All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” Never is that more true than when American voters choose our presidential nominees. Recall 1976, when, after the criminality, corruption and involuntary resignation of President Richard M. Nixon — arguably the nation’s most politically experienced chief executive, having previously served in the House and the Senate, and two terms as vice president — an ex one-term Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, was able to convert his total lack of Washington experience into an appealing electoral virtue.
Carter was demonstrably intelligent, hardworking and serious in office, but he seemed to change his mind a lot. So when faced with difficult economic conditions, voters replaced Carter with the supremely optimistic and self-confident Ronald Reagan, who had not changed his mind since at least 1964.
President Bill Clinton’s personal misbehavior in the White House forced parents to “explain” to their young children watching TV news that fellatio was actually the name of a Roman soldier, as political satirist Mark Russell said. George W. Bush, by pledging to restore dignity to the Oval Office (and a friendly Supreme Court) was able to succeed Clinton. And due to the widely unpopular views of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that Bush had urged, the federal government’s abject failure in response to Hurricane Katrina and Bush’s own fractured syntax, the well-read and totally articulate first-term senator Barack Obama, the only Democratic candidate who had opposed the Iraq War, was just what voters were looking for.
Since 1992, American voters have made history by electing three consecutive two-term presidents.
Just as nobody knew two years before the 2004 and 2016 elections that the nominees — and eventual winners — would be Obama and Donald Trump, no one knows — remembering the iron rule that a week is a lifetime in politics and six months is an eternity — whose inauguration we’ll be observing on Jan. 20, 2020. But here are three different news stories that could tell us about exactly what we voters will be looking for in the nation’s next president, if not who he or she will be:
–The world was voluntarily held captive for almost three weeks while 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach were trapped without food, water or light miles deep in a labyrinth of caves. From all corners of the globe, nations and individuals with needed skills came first to locate the lost boys and then, risking their own health and lives, were able to save the boys. From the courageous rescuers there was no end-zone dance of self-congratulation, no bragging and no boasting, just a modest mission accomplished.
— A movie with no sex, no violence, no car chases and no stars, the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” is a totally unexpected box office hit. It is the understated story of a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Presbyterian minister named Fred Rogers whose transcendent decency and kindness to the young children who watched and learned from his long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on public television. Frankly, it is both moving and inspiring. He taught us to care for and about our neighbor, and that he likes us just the way we are.
–Finally, at a time when only 7 percent of U.S. adults are military veterans — and half of them are over age 60 — dozens of U.S. military veterans, especially women, are winning nominations for seats in the U.S. House. Most are Democrats, and what they have in common and what voters respond to is their willingness to sacrifice and serve for a value larger than their own self-interest.
Mark Shields is a nationally syndicated columnist.