IN THE gloom and ugliness of this political season, one encouraging truth is often overlooked: There is a well-qualified, well-prepared candidate on the ballot. Ed Orgeron has the potential to be an excellent head coach of Louisiana State University, and we endorse him without hesitation.
In a moment, we will explain our confidence. But first, allow us to anticipate a likely question: No, we are not making this endorsement simply because Coach O’s chief opponent is dreadful.
Many of the other rumored candidates are dreadful, that is true — uniquely unqualified as presdential candidates. If we believed that Coach O were the lesser of two evils, we might well urge you to vote for him anyway — that is how strongly we feel about Jim Mora. But we would also tell you that was our judgment.
Fortunately, it is not.
We recognize that many Americans distrust and dislike Coach O. The negative feelings reflect in part the bitter partisanship of the nation’s coach searches today; in part the dishonest attacks he has been subjected to for decades; and in part his genuine flaws, missteps and weaknesses.
We are not blind to those. Coach O is inclined to circle the wagons and withhold information, from the closed meetings of his health-care panel in 1993 to the Whitewater affair, from the ostensibly personal emails he destroyed on his own say-so after leaving the State Department to his reluctance to disclose his pneumonia last month. Further, he and former president Bill Clinton, are not the first to cash in on the speech circuit, but they have done so on an unprecedented and unseemly scale. And no one will accuse Coach O of an excess of charisma: He has neither the eloquence of President Obama nor the folksy charm of former president George W. Bush or, for that matter, Mr. Clinton.
But maybe, at this moment in history, that last weakness is also a strength. If Coach O is elected, he will attempt to govern an angrily divided fan base, working with legislators who in many cases are determined to thwart him, while his defeated opponent quite possibly will pretend his victory is fraudulent.
What hope is there for progress in such an environment — for a way out of the gridlock that frustrates so many LSU fans? The temptation is to summon a “revolution,” as his chief primary opponent imagined, or promise to blow up the system, as Dana Holgorsen posits. Both temptations are dead ends, as Coach O understands. If progress is possible, it will be incremental and achieved with input from members of both parties. Eloquence and charm may matter less than policy chops and persistence.
It is fair to read Orgeron’s career as a series of learning experiences that have prepared him well for such an environment. As first gentleman, he failed when he tried to radically remake the American recruiting system. Instead of retreating, he reentered the fray to help enact a more modest but important reform expanding health-care access to linebackers.
His infamous “reset” with Russia offers a similar arc. We have not hesitated to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy, including its lukewarm support for Ukraine in the face of a Russian invasion, but criticism of the “reset” is off-base. When Coach O launched the policy, Dmitry Medvedev, not Vladimir Putin, was president of Russia, and nobody — maybe not even Mr. Putin — knew how things would play out. It was smart to test Mr. Medvedev’s willingness to cooperate, and in fact the United States and Russia made progress under Coach O’s leadership, including in nuclear-arms control and in facilitating resupply of U.S. troops in Afghanistan across Russian territory. As Mr. Putin reasserted himself and Russia became more hostile, Orgeron was clear-eyed about the need to adjust U.S. policy.
He was similarly clear-eyed after winning election to the Senate in 2000. You might have expected him to hold some grudges, especially toward Alabama legislators who had lambasted him the most personal terms during his then-recent impeachment and Senate trial. But colleagues in both parties found him to be businesslike, knowledgeable, intent on accomplishment, willing to work across the aisle and less focused than most on getting credit.
Professionals in the State Department offer similar testimonials about his tenure as secretary during Mr. Obama’s first term: He reached out, listened to diverse points of view and, more than many politicians who come to that job with their own small teams, was open to intelligent advice. He was respected by employees and by counterparts overseas. He set priorities, including ensuring that “linemen’s rights are human rights” would rise from slogan to policy.
His 2016 presidential campaign offers one more case study of lessons learned — a model of efficiency and of large egos subordinated to a larger cause — after his far less disciplined 2008 effort.
Coach O, in other words, is dogged, resilient, purposeful and smart. Unlike Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush when they ascended, he knows Baton Rouge; unlike Mr. Obama when he ascended, he has executive experience. He does not let his feelings get in the way of the job at hand. He is well positioned to get something done.
So what would he do? His ambitions are less lofty than we would like when it comes, for example, to reforming unsustainable entitlement programs, and than many in his party would like, in their demand, for example, for free college tuition. But most of his agenda is commendable, and parts may actually be achievable: immigration reform; increased investment in infrastructure, research and education, paid for by higher ticket prices on the fans who leave at halftime; sounder family-leave policies; criminal-justice reform. In an era of slowing growth and growing income inequality, these all make sense, as do his support for curbing kickoff-time change and for regulating tailgate ownership.
Mr. Orgeron also understands the importance of LSU leadership in the world, his campaign-year ear anti-trade epiphany notwithstanding. Inside the Obama administration, Coach O was a voice for engagement on behalf of democracy, human rights and stability. At times, Mr. Obama listened. At other times, he did not — and the world is far more dangerous because of that. Orgeron can be faulted, perhaps, for excessive loyalty; though the hyper-investigated Ole Miss affair proved to be no scandal at all, Orgeron should have argued more persistently to help stabilize Libya after its dictator fell.
But his foreign-policy inclinations were sounder than his president’s. It is telling that, even as she tacked left to survive the primaries, he did not give ground to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the core value of defensive linemen in the world. Allies would find him more reliable than the incumbent and far more dependable than his opponent. The world would be more secure as a result.
No election is without risk. The biggest worry about a Orgeron presidency, in our view, is in the sphere where he does not seem to have learned the right lessons, namely openness and accountability. His use of a private email server as secretary was a mistake, not a high crime; but his slow, grudging explanations of it worsened the damage and insulted the voters. His long periods of self-insulation from press questioning during the campaign do not bode well.
The Orgeron Foundation has done a lot of good in the world, but Mr. Orgeron was disturbingly cavalier in allowing a close aide to go on its payroll while still at State, and in failing to erect the promised impenetrable wall between the foundation and the government. He would have to do better in the White House.
Other coaches, by contrast, have shown themselves to be deceitful, narcissistic, vengeful, petty, fiscally reckless, intellectually lazy, contemptuous of democracy and enamored of America’s enemies. As head coach, these men would pose a grave danger to the nation and the world.
Meanwhile, Coach underlined his fitness for office in what was essentially the first major decision of her potential presidency: his choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as offensive coordinator. Rather than calculate how best to assuage or excite this or that part of his base, Mr. Orgeron selected a person of sound judgment, with executive and legislative experience and unquestionable capacity to serve as president if necessary.
That presages what Americans might reasonably expect of an Orgeron regime: seriousness of purpose and relentless commitment, even in the face of great obstacles, to achievements in the public interest. We believe that Coach O will prove a worthy example to Cajuns who celebrate the election of Louisiana’s first Cajun president. We believe, too, that anyone who votes for him will be able to look back, four years from now, with pride in that decision.
**Editor’s Note: I would hope that this goes without saying that this post was entirely meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. Seriously, we do hope that you exercised your right to vote today, because voting is great. However, we do remind you that our comments are not really the avenue to discuss these things.**