It seems to me to be undeniable that the method we use to decide who should be President is pretty much guaranteed to produce the worst possible outcome. By some fluke we occasionally seem to find a winner, but most have been middling to terrible. Perhaps it is time to consider some alternatives. There is nothing magical about the system we use, and owes many of its features to the politics of the time it was written, and the framers knew from the start that it was a flawed document and left us the means to improve it, which we have, by and large, failed to do.
However even without actually changing the system I believe that there is a way to elect a person to the job who is the most appropriate available. The trick is to bypass the whole party structure. I am not suggesting starting yet another third party; history does not offer much hope for that route. Instead I propose a People’s Candidate. This candidate would be chosen by that most American of all institutions, the TV game show.
Let me be clear that this is a serious suggestion, and while game show methodology would be used, the whole project would be planned and executed by respected public figures, and would represent a genuine attempt to educate the public into making wise choices. I would first seek to recruit the support of all the living former presidents, and leverage that to attract a team of people suitable to the gravity of what is being attempted. Former prominent White House senior staff would be a good pool of prospects.
The first task would be one that has never really been done, though one would think it was fundamental to the issue, which is to come up with a proper job description. This would define all the skills needed for the job. The second task would be to devise a series of challenges that would test these skills. These would range from fairly simple games at the local tryouts level, and increasingly challenging ones as the game progressed. The third task would be to figure out how to properly educate the viewers in as fair and unbiased a way as possible.
The structure would be America’s Got Talent meets Survivor, but the aesthetic would be very much PBS. I would imagine someone like Bill Moyers as the presenter, though it must avoid being run by a gerontocracy.
When the field is down to a manageable number the challenges would more and more closely resemble the actual work of the presidency, such as carrying on mock negotiations (perhaps foreign leaders could even be persuaded to participate) while being constantly distracted by an ongoing stream of unrelated matters demanding immediate attention.
The end game would be to run the winning team in the next election, using the profits of the show to fund the campaign. My bet, though, is that little actual campaigning would be needed. By the end of this whole project the winner would be so well known and loved by the viewing public that they would win in a landslide. What would be really interesting is whether actual political candidates would participate in the game, or whether all the contestants would be members of the general public.
While this project would definitely not be humorless (I suspect that a functioning sense of humor may turn out to one of the absolute requirements of the job) it should not suffer any hint of levity. It should be conducted in as transparent a manner as possible, and consult a wide range of views on what features to include.