If the current polling is correct, it appears America’s two major parties will be serving up the two most disliked presidential candidates in a generation. At almost every turn, I hear people asking if there aren’t better alternatives, or floating names of accomplished individuals — almost always from outside of politics — that they think offer better qualifications than the front-runners.
Had you asked me a year ago what qualities our country needed in its president, in addition to unquestionable integrity, I would have offered that an effective and frugal governor from a so-called “purple state,” (a state balanced between Republicans and Democrats), would likely bring the kind of executive experience and political acumen needed to bridge the chasm of Washington’s paralyzing polarization.
Large swaths of the American electorate, however, yearn for someone more emotionally resonant than a successful buttoned-up governor. They are looking for someone who has his or her finger on the pulse of the public.
I understand — but I also believe that in political pulse-taking it actually matters what blood vessel of the body politic is examined. Trump clearly seems to know what feeds America’s spleen. But who has their finger on the pulse that nourishes America’s brain?
Whenever America has faced a national identity crisis, we have been best served by those who sought inspiration from our founding in order to recapture for a confused and troubled generation the core ideals of American freedom and prosperity.
Think, for example, of Lincoln’s address on the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg, or Martin Luther King’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Both reminded a struggling and divided nation of how America’s founding ideals of liberty and self-government could not only propel the nation through a present struggle, but how the arc of liberty could then be secured and expanded for future generations.
So, if you ask me today what qualities I seek in a national leader, my pragmatism and prudence has given way to a newly found idealism. In addition to unquestioned integrity, I am now looking for someone with a rich knowledge of our nation’s founding and a love for the ideals of ordered liberty it sought to institutionalize.
But knowledge alone isn’t enough. My candidate would need to be able to articulate those ideas and ideals in compelling and emotional ways to America’s multicultural millennial generation.
Great communication isn’t sufficient either. Because of the multifaceted and perplexing issues facing our nation, I would want to see strong evidence of a capacity to learn from a team of capable advisers. I would want someone comfortable with inventiveness and spontaneity, and with the grit and work ethic to see complex projects through to completion.
Based on these criteria, I have started to tell anyone who will listen that on Nov. 8, I am going to write in Lin-Manuel Miranda for president.
About half the people I say this to don’t immediately recognize Miranda’s name (which is no small obstacle for someone who should be a candidate to lead the free world). For those who don’t know, Miranda is the writer-rapper-lyricist-composer-actor-genius who created the Broadway musical phenomenon “Hamilton.” For those who don’t know “Hamilton,” it’s a hip-hop retelling of the life of Revolutionary War hero and founding father Alexander Hamilton. It just won the Pulitzer Prize and last week it was nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards.
I saw “Hamilton” in New York 10 days ago. In almost every non-working waking minute since, I have been listening to its powerfully moving soundtrack. I have also been reading Miranda’s account of how the play came together through extraordinary collaboration and chutzpah. With a mix of intensity, cleverness, charm and poignancy, Miranda has given voice to that raw ambition for dignity, freedom and prosperity that we sometimes call the American Dream. “Hey yo,” raps Hamilton with the entire chorus, “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Perhaps I’m a tad star struck. I admit that I’m confused how someone so indisposed to hip-hop music as myself is now blasting his car stereo bass to rap battles (albeit rap battles about the federal role in America’s monetary and banking system). And I confess that I have no knowledge of Mr. Miranda’s approach to salient contemporary domestic or foreign policy issues.
But what so encourages me about Miranda’s accomplishment during a time of abysmal political rhetoric is his ability to breathe intelligence and vigor into our contemporary culture from the story of our nation’s inspiring birth. That is no small feat, and it is the finest thing to have happened to political discourse in a long while. So, for the moment, I’m sticking to my current riff: On Nov. 8, I plan to write in Miranda for president. “I am not throwing away my shot!”
Paul Edwards is the editor and publisher of the Deseret News.