CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Happy birthday George and Abe. While we're at it, happy birthday to the two other presidents born in February, William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.
We owe all four a debt of gratitude. Being president has to be one of the toughest jobs ever created. The pressure is enormous and the consequences of their actions felt around the world.
But the fact is that presidents are neither drafted nor forced to take the position. They work hard and long for the honor. Only 44 people have ever held the office.
Presidents must be held to a very high standard and that is why we have a lengthy and arduous selection process. Just look ahead to 2016. Even though the election is almost two years down the road, the campaigns are underway. Candidates and parties are already publicly and privately jockeying for position.
Such a long run-up almost certainly leads to voter fatigue. But there is an advantage to these lengthy campaigns: It allows the public to study and think carefully about the characteristics and agenda we want from our next leader. And in a time when the federal government has ground to a halt, when politicians and the public are badly divided on many major policy issues, leadership has seldom been at a greater premium.
Historians have studied what makes a great president, a body of work that has been supplemented by public opinion polls. While there is no consensus on the issue, the following list includes several of the commonly identified qualities.
• A compelling vision for the nation and the world.
• The skills to achieve that vision by communicating, listening and cooperating.
• A limited but impactful agenda.