Crackpot Notions

Apr 25, 2014

Now that the sidewalks have cleared and like a happy cat the days are stretching into evening I find myself once again taking walks. For me as an introvert long walks are perfect for flicking off the cares of the day and musing on various crackpot notions. I wave to neighbors and get back to fine-tuning my crackpot theory about the American presidency, which goes like this:

We Americans have elected two kinds of presidents lately. We go for men modeled loosely on the famous captains of the television starship Enterprise. We choose either the James T. Kirk kind of president or the Jean-Luc Picard kind. The James Kirk type is a cowboy at heart. Captain Kirk is as ready to set his phaser to stun as he is to slip an arm around some stunning sci-fi space babe. Kirk’s the wild cowboy model for both George Bush the 2nd and Bill Clinton. They were impulsive presidents, the kind of men who might say yee-hah while landing in a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier or cornering an intern in the Oval Office. Cowboy presidents start shooting wars on the other side of the world and get their names in the tabloids far more than they should. They just can’t help themselves.

The Jean-Luc Picard kind of president is grandfatherly. The elegant Captain Picard would order himself a cup of Earl Gray tea, glance over the crisis exploding around him, choose a course of action, tilt two fingers forward, and say to his subordinates, “Make it so.” He was the perfect bald elder, the too-good-to-be-true leader, the strong-willed paterfamilias we all dream of. The grandfather model of president brought us Ronald Reagan, of course, who kept a bowl of jelly beans on his desk and pushed it toward you when you came into the room. Barack Obama, too, is the grandfather type. These presidents lull us into a sense of security—somebody decent is taking care of things for us, after all—but behind the scenes some cowboy on the president’s staff is up to mischief. Maybe they’re shipping weapons to a dictator or tapping every computer wire in the known universe. Grandpa presidents hire cowboy staffers because those men with True Grit make the grandpa presidents feel virile. Grandpa presidents point their fingers and say “Make it so,” and their cowboy staffers leap into action. Heaven help us when they do.

True, once in awhile we elect a president who is neither a cowboy or a grandpa. Abe Lincoln, for example, was simply an adult. Adults are great. They’re all around us, dreaming things up and getting things done. I’ve noticed, too, that adults are often women. Lately I’ve been getting emails from a very interesting group of adults. These are some of the innovators who use crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter. At crowd-funding sites adults make their best pitch for an innovative project, and kindred spirits contribute some of the money to get it rolling. Later the innovators send out progress reports by email. This week I have had emails from the creator of the documentary film “The Illusionists,” which is about the curse the global fashion industry inflicts on women’s self-image. There’s a cool team north of here rejuvenating Detroit’s industrial heritage making something they call the Floyd Leg. Floyd Legs are sleek metal legs with a clamp at the top. They come in sets of four and you clamp them at the corners of an old door or a finely finished slab of wood for a one-of-a-kind table for your house or office. Closer to home, a brilliant team of folks in South Bend have put together Green Bridge Growers, an urban aquaponics farm that grows fresh, healthy local produce and employs folks from the autism spectrum in interesting jobs that are a good fit for their skills. All these innovators must have come back from their own spring walks not with some crackpot theory of the American presidency but with something in particular they could do, something worth doing, and because they themselves were adults, not cowboys or patriarchal grandpas, they hopped up and set about to make it so.