Yesterday I spent some time thinking about the differences between grifters and leaders and how the public stage beckons and rewards them both. So much so that, from a certain distance, and if viewing only a single scene, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two kinds of players.
Today, Josh Marshall eloquently disabuses his Washington D.C. peers of the notion that former lobbyist par excellence and current governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour could one day be president. In doing so, Marshall reminded me of a principle I had groped for but missed: the importance of an independent character for the execution of an independent power.
The framers – and keepers – of the U.S. Constitution recognized the importance of keeping the executive branch at arms length from the legislative and judicial branches. When we allow political parties to build their power in violation of these plans, by stacking the Supreme Court with partisans or opening the White House to lobbyists, we undermine the very balance which has kept the U.S. on the path towards liberty and justice for all.
Perhaps chief among the qualities we should require of our presidents then is a measured and thoughtful independence. (Likewise, we may want our representatives to be hotheaded horse traders.)