Why on earth are so many Americans afraid of “smart” leaders? Isn’t it time we embraced people whose understanding of world issues went beyond saber-rattling and military confrontations? Is the final debate in November to focus on past histories masquerading as “experience” or will it be possible to move on to matters of import?

It isn’t, after all, over intellectualizing for candidates to address substance and forgo jingoistic sloganeering that skirts issues and supplants reason with rhetorical babble. The electorate shouldn’t shrink from the responsibility of thinking rather than accepting without question partisan positions that cloud judgment and inflame large segments of the population. Aren’t most voters tired of being told that character assassination and innuendo are “just politics”? Are we a nation of adults or adolescents incapable of making distinctions and understanding issues?

For if every decision made by super delegates and others is critiqued as having been based on some underlying motive rather than the result of serious reflection, the press and candidates’ supporters will continue to waste precious time arguing about nothing of importance instead of focusing on policies that affect the nation’s future. TV’s Seinfeld may have been about “nothing”, but do we, as a people, want to function as if we were hapless participants in a sit-com?

The country is in a strange other-worldly place in which the messages our leaders deliver are at variance with reality. The “surge” in Iraq is said to be working because fatalities are down and a semblance of calm prevails in some areas. Senator McCain points with pride to his early support of the Patraeus plan, and others keep repeating administration spin as if our military will soon carry the day and return home to flurries of ticker tape and the sound of trumpets.

It is a tenuous success, however, that depends on the US stipends former insurgent Sunnis receive ‘to be on our side’ and maintain order in their enclaves. Is that what is meant by “standing up” Iraqi forces? Even more problematic, when Prime Minister Maliki’s troops failed, despite superior numbers, to uproot and disarm Sadr’s militias it was US troops to the rescue. And more stunning still, it was Iran that brokered a cease-fire with Sadr’s army. When President Bush insists Maliki’s bravado validated his leadership credentials was any rational person buying that bizarre analysis?

Nevertheless, it is still possible, although McCain did say he was surprised by Maliki’s action, to hear him, and other supporters of current Middle East policy, defend our continuing presence in a land where nothing we do seems to work for very long – – no viable central government, separate Sunni and Kurd spheres of influence and fractious Shiite on Shiite violence. Do our leaders imagine that voters will forever continue to support incompetent and imprudent policies out of fear and false patriotism?

Many voters believed that even if the president wasn’t particularly smart or well informed he would field a seasoned, experienced team. His team did in fact have years and years of experience, but it turned out experience in and of itself was no guarantee that good judgment would prevail or that ideology could substitute for wisdom, or that a White House closed off from dissent would be able to deal wisely with the nation’s business or truthfully with the American people and Congress.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has said recently he regrets having voted to give the president war powers in Iraq. Not only did he feel the intelligence provided was incomplete, if not slanted, his understanding was that if any military action were to be undertaken it would occur only when all other efforts were exhausted, and since such efforts were not exhausted Hagel says his vote was a mistake.

It is our bitter fate that we were led to war so badly informed and with so little honest debate. And it is not encouraging that the warrior mentality still prevails in some quarters. This time around our nation’s welfare compels us to choose leaders whose experience is enhanced by wisdom and intelligence – – that we understand at last that Commander in Chief isn’t simply a military title but one that extends beyond the heat of battle if it is truly to serve the best interests of the country. 

It doesn’t hurt to be smart about our leaders or to expect them to be smart as well.