Is Your “Ex” Running For President?

In a career of doing marital therapy, I’ve heard many, many complaints from the female side of the marital equation. And, as I hope to make clear, thinking about those concerns just might help you decide how you vote in the next election.

To start, a few of those complaints:

1. He is very critical. He rarely says anything nice. He makes fun of me in public.

2. My mistakes aren’t forgiven, but he never even admits that he makes a mistake.

3. He doesn’t have a better plan than I do for taking care of our family and he isn’t home as much as I am. Since I’m the one who actually has to do most of the parenting, he comes out looking better than I do. He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty, I do.

4. When he makes a mistake, he makes an excuse. When I make a mistake, there is no acceptable excuse.

5. He isn’t honest about what he said or did in the past. His memory seems awfully convenient and he even claims I said or did things that are completely off-base. Sometimes I’d like to carry around an audio recorder so that I would be able to remind him of what really happened between us.

6. When things are going badly it’s my fault; when they go well, he either says nothing positive or takes credit for it himself.

7. I don’t like his friends (or relatives), but he doesn’t see their faults and defends them; in fact, he puts their needs over mine.

8. He never compromises. When I suggest a compromise, he acts as if I’m disloyal and advocating apostasy. It’s his way or the highway.

9. He is too darn full of himself and he isn’t sensitive to me and the kids — to our needs.

I’m willing to bet that you recognize this guy. He is an ex-boyfriend, your current or past husband, a father or an uncle or a boss. Sure, you appreciate his self-confidence. Maybe he is charming and able to make a good living. There are likely a number of people who admire him enormously.

But those things aren’t enough, are they? They don’t really make up for the bad stuff, do they?

So why, I ask you, are you thinking of voting for someone just like that, who is running for President of the United States of America?

OK, let me try to give these men (and one woman, as of this writing) a break. In order to become President you must have a number of characteristics. It helps, of course, to be attractive, and there are several candidates who have “movie star” good looks. In romance and in politics, this surely doesn’t hurt.

Moreover, men and women in power need an enormous amount of self-confidence, decisiveness, and resilience. They simply cannot take every criticism to heart without crumbling in the face of the plethora of accusations that are routine in day-to-day political life. They must have the capacity to tune-out almost all of the critical voices.

But sometimes that kind of “bullet-proof” quality is too much of a good thing. To succeed, a President needs to be sufficiently self-reflective and open to new ideas to recognize when he is on the wrong track. Equally, he must adjust to changing circumstances, not just stay-the-course in a stubborn, inflexible, bull-headed fashion. The President requires advisors who will tell him when he is wrong, not a cadre of “yes men” that he has chosen because they will say “yes.”

In light of the above, let’s frame the nine marital complaints slightly differently, so that they are recognizably the same but can be applied to the candidates for the highest office in the land:

1. Does the man or woman who wants to be President simply vilify his opposition? Does he ever give the other side credit for anything?

2. Does he admit to having made even one mistake?

3. What is his plan? Does history suggest that the plan has a chance of working? Does he have an impressive track record under circumstances that approximate those of the position he aspires to?

4. How often does he ignore or excuse his own behavior, while failing to show the same kind of consideration to the other side?

5. Is he honest about what he has said or done in the past? Does he tell the truth (and require his staff and advertising men to tell the truth) about his opponent. Is his memory awfully convenient?

6. Does he take credit for things for which he didn’t really have much responsibility?

7. Is he willing to see and talk about flaws in his own political party, or is he simply a hostage to them? Does he criticize anyone within his party? Is he a slave to his “base?”

8. Is he open to the possibility of compromise in order to achieve some partial (if imperfect) “good” or avoid a disaster, or does he recklessly insist on having his way as the only way forward?

9. Does he have real compassion for — real sensitivity to — the plight of the people in the world who are suffering, the ones without a job, lacking medical insurance, and who can’t afford college. Is he sensitive to the motto to be found at the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, not just in words, but in deeds and his voting record?


Remember back to a time when you were younger and you’d just met the guy of your dreams, or so you thought. In the “honeymoon” stage everything seemed perfect. It wasn’t until later that you saw him as he really was. Well, the honeymoon is over for Barack Obama whether you like him or not, but it is still on for some of the Republican contenders for the GOP nomination, who are less well-know, haven’t been so carefully scrutinized, and haven’t yet had the chance they want — to demonstrate their talents (or lack thereof) on the job.

Regardless of who you vote for in any election, it won’t take forever for the honeymoon of the election campaign to be over. Before you vote, think ahead to what it will be like to wake up, not to the presidential “Prince Charming” of the evening before the victory, but the unshaven, tired-out guy of the “morning after” who hogged the covers overnight.

One last thing. Years ago I heard a story about Hale Boggs, the 17th Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, a Democrat from Louisiana. It seems that Boggs had just given a speech and it had gone over very well. His wife and he were leaving the auditorium, driven away in a limo.

Feeling pretty puffed-up as he sat next to his spouse, he clearly was referring to himself as he uttered, “You know Lindy, there just aren’t that many great men anymore.” Lindy Boggs, herself no wall flower, could hardly bear her husband’s overblown ego in that moment. She was quick to puncture his balloon: “You are certainly right dear. And what’s more, there is one less than you think!”

As we consider the presidential candidates, we’d best keep that in mind.

The top picture is the posthumous Official Presidential Portrait of John F. Kennedy painted by Aaron Shikler. The bottom image is the Plaque of the New Colossus Poem by Emma Lazarus (“Mother of Exiles”) in the museum inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The plaque was dedicated in 1903. The photographer is Melanzane1013. Both images are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.