David Brooks makes a great point in his column today about Newt Gingrich’s temperament:
But how you believe something is as important as what you believe. It doesn’t matter if a person shares your overall philosophy. If that person doesn’t have the right temperament and character, stay away.
I’d make that same point in a slightly different way.
Presidents always aspire to set the course for the nation’s domestic governance, and some occasionally succeed: Reagan, Johnson, Obama for the first 18 months of his presidency.
More typically, however, the president finds his direction rebuffed by Congress, which does the job instead: Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Carter, Ford, Nixon, etc.
What presidents must inescapably do is respond to emergencies: eg, the financial crisis of 2008, the 9/11 terror attacks, the financial crises of 1997-98, the invasion of Kuwait, etc. And there, what usually ends up mattering most is not the president’s philosophy, but his judgment, coolness and steadiness. Those are the grounds on which Romney reassures and Gingrich terrifies.