We were watching the first NASCAR race of the season, and when it ended, we switched over to the latest GOP debate, our first time tuning in to any debate in this wild election season.
Until then I’d read articles and status updates, watched parodies, and heard about the ridiculous behaviors of the candidates and their claims. Seeing it first-hand was something else. The shouting, the interrupting, the slinging of insults. Debates are not exactly civil forms of discourse.
I should disclose here that I have no freaking clue who I am voting for, nor do I consider myself a Republican or Democrat. So, the choices are pretty much wide open for me, though I can say with near-certainty that I will not vote for Donald Trump.
I might reconsider, though, if he said three little words.
The election process is built on promises. Plans for change. Reform. Dreams of better than what we have now. No matter who you align with, your candidate has ideas for how he or she would do things if elected.
And all of them are lying to some extent, whether they intend to or not.
I’ve never run for any kind of office, so maybe the following illustrations are weak, but I have made promises to myself that I haven’t kept.
Promises like, “Our marriage will be different.” Marriage is hard work. Spouses fight. Divorce is a real possibility. All the things people told me before I was married, I dismissed because I thought I knew better. I imagined something different but I didn’t have all the information. I had no idea what it would be like to join my life with someone else’s and to work through the rough patches.
Promises like, “I won’t be that kind of parent.” Isn’t it amazing how much we know about parenting before we have kids? The truth is, it doesn’t matter what kind of parent I think I’m going to be because each child is unique. I can’t possibly predict my parenting skills before I meet the objects of those skills.
I don’t have any data to back up this claim, but human nature being what it is makes me think that every president has broken a promise of some kind. What was pledged during a campaign was altered once in office.
It’s foolish, really, to expect a person to keep all the promises they make about the next four years because none of us really knows what the future holds. Did George W. Bush expect to be president in a post-9/11 world that brought terrorism to our country and security changes none of us could have imagined ever needing?
Could John F. Kennedy have predicted his death before his term had ended? Did Lincoln anticipate a brutal civil war? Did Hoover know he’d lead the country during a depression? Were FDR’s promises based on the country’s involvement in a world war?
These are all examples of disaster and tragedy, sure, but aren’t those the things that sidetrack our dreams? That challenge our promises?
So, what are the words I want to hear from a candidate?
“I don’t know.”
Those three words say so much. They leave room for learning, for teamwork. They are a humble admission of weakness. (My husband says they also would be political suicide.)
Frankly, I’m tired of know-it-alls. Tired of overpromising and underdelivering. I’m suspicious of big plans and lofty dreams. Maybe that means I’m a cynic or a pessimist. Or a realist. I want to believe that the next president will do good, but I’m also aware that he or she is just a human, like me, with just a few more qualifications for national leadership.
I want to hear why a person is qualified for the job, what drives them to campaign for a position that will undoubtedly age them and wear on their families.
And it’s not that I don’t want to hear anything about a candidate’s dreams for the nation; it’s just that I don’t want them to sound like guarantees. I’m okay with a leader who says, “I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, but I know whose advice I would ask, what factors I might consider.”
Maybe I’m the one dreaming now. I get that there’s a playbook to follow in this game, and no political strategist would advise a candidate to say these words.
But I know if I heard them, I’d be much more likely to vote for that candidate. They would at least have my attention for something other than circus antics.
I know how hard it is for me to say, “I don’t know” in my own life. I want to have answers. I don’t want to admit there are things I don’t know.
So, maybe the best I can hope for is to start with myself. To admit my inadequacies, my areas of weakness, the things I don’t know.
And maybe that will never change a nation, but it will change me.
Good thing I’m never planning to run for president.