The birthdays of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are...

The birthdays of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are a time to ponder the qualities we need in a commander in chief. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Wirestock

Presidents Day is a time to celebrate the lives and formative contributions to American history of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February nearly a century apart.

But this year in particular, with the 2024 election looming, it also is the season to ponder what we want from our commanders in chief — and what we need.

Twelve months from now, the presidential campaign will have begun in earnest, with voting taking place in early primaries and caucuses. The airwaves and social media will be swamped with rhetoric from the White House aspirants, all of whom will deploy their best slogans and partisan attacks, trying to cultivate disgust and loathing and party loyalty, hardly an ideal atmosphere in which to ponder weighty matters of state and our nation’s future.

We must not lose the opportunity to think ahead now, in this short lull before the political storm.

It is clear that we need a great communicator in the Oval Office, someone capable of inspiring the nation and sometimes calming it — a communicator who has a message that can both uplift and knit this disparate patchwork experiment together.

We need a leader with a vision for the American people, not someone who sees the job as the final entry on a perfect resume but as a means to making life better coast to coast. And that vision should not descend into rigid dogma: The president must be capable of compromise, with an understanding of the value of listening to all sides and finding common ground.

We need a president who can manage the vast bureaucracy of the federal government with skill and care, one who is eager to work with Congress and who is prepared for the job ahead, through both experience and personal mettle.

We need a figure of unimpeachable honesty who may stumble, but always strives to set a good example for fellow government officials as well as the constituents who elevated that figure to high office.

And we must have an individual who is prepared to be a global leader, who can reassure a world out of balance that America can and will be a force for good.

There are times when presidents rise to terrible or historic moments and are shaped by them, and those presidents shape the moment in turn. That includes Washington and Lincoln nurturing our republic, Ronald Reagan facing down communism, FDR carrying the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. We are on the verge of such a hinge point now, when America must navigate shifting geopolitical tectonic plates, as China and Russia maneuver to outpace us, amid a world marked by wild technological change, climate challenges, and economic insecurity.

This is a moment for a historic, era-defining American leader. Finding him or her must be the guiding star of the coming election season.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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