Why this man should run for President
“Mike Johanns for President!” my friend Tom commented on my Facebook page earlier today. I had shared this picture with my social media circle – the junior Senator from Nebraska visited with farm broadcasters this morning during our visit to Capitol Hill.
Based on what I heard this morning and what I’ve observed over the years covering the Senator, Mike Johanns probably SHOULD run for President of the United States: he is sharp, principled, and most important, he lives in the real world. Let me explain that last, most important concept…
Earlier in the day, Congressman Collin Peterson (D, Minn.), the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, offered what I considered to be the quote of the day: “There a lot of people here who are really out there, on the right and on the left.”
Referring, presumably, to his colleagues in both chambers of Congress, Peterson drew laughs – and agreement – from the broadcast journalists in the crowd. And everyone, I suspect, who reads this post is likely to nod in agreement with that deft observation from one of the most-respected Democrats in the legislature.
Spend any time reading the online comments on any given political story on any given day at any major metropolitan newspaper in the country, and you quickly realize that Americans are losing their grip on the basic concept of polite discourse. Fueled, no doubt, by cultural evolutions related to a 24-hour media, the immediacy of the Internet and the ever-present social media, we by and large see the most extreme among us at all levels of society becoming the loudest… and “moving the needle” in the process.
The squeaky wheel, we are taught from a young age, gets the grease, and in a hyper-connected media-driven culture, the squeaky wheel, it often feels, gets its way.
With the rise of super-partisan politics, one fears the death of reason in policy. And so it is that men like Collin Peterson and Mike Johanns are such refreshing leaders.
Note I said “leaders,” not politicians, for I truly believe these men are strong leaders in a time when we are surrounded by celebrities, politicians, talking heads, egos and personalities posing as leaders. With the problems our society, our nation and indeed, our world face in the modern era, fundamentally principled leadership is necessary now more than ever.
Why am I so impressed with the son of John and Adeline Johanns (I’ve heard the Senator use that phrase 100 times, and it stuck with me)? He calls it like it really is, regardless of the party politics. One example? When asked this morning if he would support grating Trade Promotion Authority to President Obama, Senator Johanns didn’t blink before responding in a resounding affirmative:
“I would give the President TPA for a whole host of reasons,” he stated. “That should be completely bipartisan.” Likewise, when presented with the opportunity to critique the U.S. Department of Agriculture, i.e. Obama-appointed Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Bush-era Secretary didn’t hesitate for a moment to heap praise on the Department for its handling of yesterday’s BSE news, among other things.
Johanns is one classy guy in a town where it sometimes feels that class is a natural resource in short supply.
The Governor-turned-Secretary-turned-Senator is no Pollyanna, however. His clearest point of the day was that this country is sorely lacking executive leadership. Taking the President to task on a number of issues, Johanns presented his assessment in clear and concise terms absent party-rhetoric and message-speak. When he offered a critique of the Administration, it felt as though it came from an honest – and legitimate – perspective backed by a career spent working in the upper echelons of the Executive Branch of both state and federal government.
I’ve now had the pleasure of covering and interviewing four USDA Secretaries under two different administrations. From icy Anne Veneman (who was actually a delight to observe in her element mingling with farmers in Northwest Ohio) to caretaker Ed Schafer (who was a super-nice guy and never should have been appointed), each has a different personality, a different agenda, and a different relationship with his boss (aka, POTUS).
Mike Johanns, of all four Secretaries, impressed me the most. He “got it” when he came to his job, and he clearly commanded the respect of the White House. His understanding of agriculture was clearly valued, his efforts clearly had an influence on the development of the 2008 Farm Bill, and he earned the respect of the many and disparate constitutiencies of “the people’s department.”
That is exactly the kind of “executive leadership” this country needs in a Chief Executive.
In an age of hyper-partisan 24-hour politics, Mike Johanns probably makes too damn much sense to be a major party candidate for President.
But a farm kid can hope, right?