We design things here. Things that look good and work better. Things the rest of the world finds irresistible. The iPhone was designed here. So were the West Coast offense and Tesla's Model S. According to a jury, Barry Bonds' muscles were designed in a Bay Area laboratory. And let's not forget Pong.
So you'd think if there were a design studio for U.S. presidents -- an incubator of ideas and ideals -- it would be right here. But the Bay Area has never sent anyone to the White House, not even a one-termer. In the spirit of Halloween, we assembled a panel of experts who took bits and body parts from past presidents to design a POTUS worthy of notice. Our very own Franken-prez.
There have been only two U.S. presidents from California -- Richard Nixon (1972) and Ronald Reagan (1980) -- and, surprisingly, both Republicans carried the Bay Area's nine counties of tree hugging, latte-loving, limousine liberals, quadrennially caricatured by the GOP.
"The Bay Area is very definitely not the rest of the country," said Ben Tulchin, a San Francisco pollster, who concluded that our ideal president would likely be pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-gay rights. He is more likely to be single, divorced or a member of the LGBT community. "He" might even be a woman.
If voters in the Bay Area -- a seat of higher learning -- prize one quality above others in a president, it is the brilliance
"Everybody knows Jefferson was very smart," said Robert Merry, author of the presidential history "Where They Stand," and editor of the conservative journal The National Interest. "But if you look at what he believed, and the politics that he practiced, it's very different from what people in the Bay Area want. He was a small government man, believed in low taxes, and was a strict constructionist -- all things that are now associated with moderate conservatism."
So not Jefferson? Or would the 18th-century sage be a comfortable fit with Silicon Valley's crazy quilt of libertarians, liberals and economic pragmatists? "The American people don't really give a damn about whether the president is a conservative or a liberal." Merry said. "They essentially hire and fire based on performance."
During President John F. Kennedy's welcoming remarks to a group of Nobel laureates, he called them "the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge,
First funny bone
And JFK, whose witticisms were as easily tossed off at news conferences as occasions of state during the early '60s, provided our perfect president's funny bone. "One of the saving graces of many presidents is a sense of humor," said George Vasquez, chairman of the history department at San Jose State, who teaches a course on U.S. presidents. Kennedy used his charm to rally the nation behind a plan to fly to the moon before the end of the decade. "Kennedy defined cool," Tulchin said.
Certainly, any president produced by Bay Area designers would have the good looks of Kennedy, and the accompanying savoir faire brought to the job by Barack Obama. "In the TV era, the president is a celebrity who is in our living rooms on a regular basis," Tulchin said.
Abe was no babe
Looks, redefined as "optics" in the current political vernacular, matter here, as they do now in the nation's capital. It's no longer possible to fit a square peg into the Oval Office. "Lincoln, who was tall, gangly and not that good looking," Tulchin said, "would never have survived in a TV era."
Technically, of course, Lincoln didn't even survive the daguerreotype era, his assassination a direct result of his resolve to preserve the Union. His determination, even in the face of a war that left 600,000 Americans dead, required heart and soul. "The situation he was in would have crushed a lot of other men," Merry said.
But our experts couldn't agree on the existence of a human soul, and the true measure of Lincoln's resolve wasn't his sad, soulful eyes, it was the lasting legacy of his words. During his lifetime, they soared over a bloodstained battlefield at Gettysburg and the Capitol steps during his second inaugural. It required the sum of his many formidable parts to preserve the Union, but it was Lincoln's golden tongue that made him the president many believe to be the greatest in our history.
You gotta have heart
Heart is a quality that most presidents have had -- even when it sometimes was overshadowed by spleen -- but our Bay Area president would surely be a bleeding heart. The two presidents whose policies aligned closely with this region's values were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
"Johnson bullied Congress into passing the most meaningful civil rights legislation this country's ever known," noted Larry Gerston, who also teaches a class at San Jose State on the presidency. "Maybe it could be a hybrid heart from Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt, who ushered in Social Security and all the wonderful programs during the Great Depression. Those two exemplify presidents who really were concerned with the collective good. I think that's in keeping with the social consciousness of this area."
TR, as in TRees
In keeping with our conservationist instincts, our president's green thumb would come from Theodore Roosevelt, who not only started the national park system, he actually went camping with the father of Bay Area tree-huggers, John Muir. The greening of America is TR's enduring legacy, but his most endearing role -- the one that any Republican president from the Bay Area would need to share -- was as model for the teddy bear.
A visionary with hands
It took a far less lovable Republican to radically change the look and feel of the Bay Area, but in two bold strokes -- one brilliant, the other brutal -- Richard Nixon set in motion waves of emigration from Asia, first opening the door to China in 1972, then negotiating an end to the war in Southeast Asia, which eventually triggered an exodus of Vietnamese after Saigon collapsed in 1975, not long after his resignation. Nixon was famous for throwing his big, meaty hands up and flashing the "victory" sign, but when it came to reshaping the metropolitan Bay Area into a melting pot that's now nearly one-fourth Asian, Nixon was the one with a helping hand.
"There are few more visionary presidents of the postwar period than Nixon when it came to foreign policy," Merry said. "Especially his approach to Asia, which was absolutely brilliant and had a huge impact on the history of the world."
To distinguish our Franken-prez from the campaign's current combatants, our inventory of presidential body parts doesn't hit below the belt. But if lightning ever strikes a Bay Area candidate with enough of these qualities, rest assured the White House will be occupied by a man in full. Or a woman.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.