A Modest Proposal for Evaluating Presidential Candidates

No, this isn’t the sort of modest proposal Jonathan Swift wrote–a savagely satirical one. It really is modest:

Anyone who formally announces that she or he is running for the office of the U.S. presidency should be invited–and strongly induced by public, non-partisan pressure–to take an examination. No, I’m not suggesting that they should have their heads examined (in the old-fashioned parlance), although that couldn’t hurt the interests of the public, either.

I’m suggesting an examination on American history, the American Constitution, basic economics, and current world affairs. Maybe an examination of two hours, one hour one day, one the next. No trick-questions. The examination would have to be proctored because you just know some of them would try to cheat. It is their profession, after all–cheating, I mean.

We’d certainly find out how much they knew. We might also be able to deal a small blow to the pseudocracy by having the capacity–later, in debates, etc.–to tether their rhetoric to facts from the examination. For instance, a new Luntzism is “job creators,” a term used by Boehner and other GOPers to describe extremely rich people, whom President Obama would like to tax. Listening to some people who know something about economics, I’ve learned that working-class and middle-class consumers actually create most of the jobs by, well, consuming: buying goods and services. I know this sounds like common sense, but it also seems to reflect economic fact; and, of course, Luntzisms are designed to distract citizens from their common sense and from the facts.

Anyway, if candidate X argued in a debate that taxing the very rich would damage “job creators,” someone could point out that “in your correct answer–and by the way, congratulations!–on the test, you pointed out that ordinary consumers drove the economy. What’s up with that, Bucko, I mean, Governor Bucko?”

Moreover, if presidential candidates are anything like academics, and they are, they will not have read the Constitution, just as academics rarely read the Codes and By Laws that govern their employment. Neither group can be bothered with such trivial drudgery.

And let’s recall that you have to take tests in order to get a driver’s license (which you then have to show to someone in order to vote, especially if you are Black and live in the South), but you don’t have to take an exam in order to run for president. Good policy? You be the judge (he suggested, modestly).


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