Where is 'President Andrew Shepherd' when we need him?

Where is 'President Andrew Shepherd' when we need him?
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I came across a recent news item reporting that Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) declared that President BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE should order a “serious cyber attack” on Russia in response to hackers whose latest ransomware attack affected a number of U.S. companies. The senator reportedly followed up with: “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they do make it even.” With all due respect, that sounds to me like fifth-grade playground philosophy substituting for U.S. foreign policy.

Now, it does make sense for the collective leadership of our various three-letter, top-secret agencies to privately get together to discuss who might be behind the cyber attacks and, if and when they’re identified, decide how best to deal with these escalating threats to our economy and national security. 

But Kennedy publicly popping off to threaten Russia and President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin directs sexist remark at US anchor Navalny, Afghan women among those under consideration for EU human rights prize World leaders recognize ransomware attacks as 'global security threat' MORE could needlessly inflame a tense relationship. It ultimately puts the United States and our intelligence and military personnel in a more precarious situation. The only thing that could top such remarks as a you’ve-to-be-kidding-me-moment would be if President Biden called Putin “a killer” shortly before a scheduled meeting with him — oh, wait … that actually happened

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Every day we witness polarized, divisive statements coming out of Washington. It makes one wonder if writers for satirical sites such as The Onion and The Babylon Bee are scripting the talking points for our Republican and Democratic “leaders.” No one in such powerful positions could really be this partisan, this clueless, this, well, incompetent. 

Once you kick that possibility around in your mind, another question becomes obvious: Can the United States of America be effectively leaderless and still function? If so, does that mean our nation is still running on fumes from the drive of talented past leaders?

And if we accept that premise, then it would seem obvious that the “genius and talent” tank that now barely powers our country is about to run dry. We might soon sputter to a stop along the road while adversaries such as Russia and China zoom past us toward destinations of prosperity.

Today’s America is morphing into a place where people must pick sides and stay in ideological silos. Washington appears to have devolved into a self-destructive “Us v. Them” existence. Almost all the rhetoric runs through the filter of “How will it appeal to the far-extreme of my party?” Longtime leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters McConnell-aligned group targeting Kelly, Cortez Masto and Hassan with M ad campaign MORE (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress is hell-bent on a spooky spending spree  Pelosi on addressing climate through reconciliation package: 'This is our moment' House progressives lay out priorities for spending negotiations MORE (D-Calif.), along with their respective “deputies,” seem positively euphoric to keep governing this way.      

Well, guess what? There are tens of millions of Americans who don’t agree with political extremists and are concerned with staying healthy, finding or keeping a job, feeding their families, paying rent or a mortgage, staying safe from crime, and finding moments of peace and happiness in a nation and world that seem to become more unstable each day.

But those Americans apparently don’t factor into the equation where created hate, suspicion and distrust help politicians to raise millions of fundraising dollars, gain reelection, and perhaps obtain book or cable-TV contracts. No, hard-working Americans are not part of the extremes of our country, so they become somewhat useless to the partisans in Washington when it comes to stirring up the anger and resentment necessary to fill political coffers and further personal ambitions.

Back in 1995, a great fictional president named Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas in the movie “The American President,” addressed this very problem.

President Shepherd took to the podium in his White House press room to say this at one point: “Being president of this country is entirely about character. … Everyone knows America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s going to put up a fight. … We have serious problems, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson [the opposing candidate in the film] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”

That playbook apparently is being used by some of our real-life “leaders” looking to placate the extremes of their political parties, while ignoring the growing troubles that are overwhelming many Americans.

We need an old-fashioned American leader who realizes we are all in this together and that if we continue to Balkanize the country because we are afraid of its extremists, we will all lose eventually. Where is President Shepherd when we need him?

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.