Americans have high expectations for our political leaders: We want someone who is confident, but humble; inspirational, but relatable; intelligent, but grounded with common sense. Yet at this critical juncture for our country, there are a few characteristics that should be paramount as Americans consider whom to send to Washington to represent us.

Forthrightness: For too long, Americans have put up with politicians that offer us poll-tested platitudes, but then take very different positions in private. They tell the people what they think their audiences want to hear, depend on the liberal media to spin the facts to fit their interests, and ignore the real concerns facing Americans.

This cannot go on. America faces enormous challenges today: A struggling economy, growing entrenched joblessness, exploding national debt, collapsing healthcare system, out-of-control illegal immigration, growing crime problem, increased racial tensions, an unaffordable and wasteful college system, and escalating terrorist and national security threats. Americans cannot afford phony, politically correct, happy talk and politics-as-usual. We need leaders who will talk frankly about these too-real problems and are committed to taking action to make actual progress.

An Outside-Washington Perspective: Too many Washington politicians no longer seem to live in the same world as other Americans. They enjoy cushy employment contracts, benefits and perks that one would never find in the private sector. They hobnob with their politically connected friends and trade favors, while passing the bills on to taxpayers. We need leaders who reject this mentality and are committed to restoring our nation to a system of laws that truly treats and respects everyone equally — including members of the political class. This requires a new perspective; someone who recognizes the inherent corruption in government cronyism, and is committed to changing it.

An Understanding of Americans’ Aspirations: America has long been known as the “land of opportunity.” Our country was built on the idea that anyone with talent and who was willing to work hard could climb the economic ladder and achieve security and prosperity. We have always been a country that roots for and celebrates success, as well as helps those in need. Unfortunately, this ideal has been disappearing as too many people can’t find the opportunity to work, and are instead tempted to give up and depend on government to provide for them. Restoring the American Dream must be a priority for the next administration so that people have the opportunity to flourish and pursue their own vision of happiness. We need leaders who believe in this American idea, rather than apologize for it.

A Respect for People as Individuals: Increasingly, politicians seem to believe that Washington has all the answers and should set the rules for everyone. They force us to have the same services covered in our health insurance or pay a penalty if not covered. Washington bureaucrats want to micromanage our employment contracts and tell us how many days off we each must have. They even want to dictate whats in our kids’ school lunches and how much salt can be on our potato chips.

This isn’t how America — founded on the idea of a federal government with limited powers — is supposed to operate. We need leaders who reject this Washington-knows-best attitude, and will respect individual Americans to make the decisions that are right for them.

Bringing Us Together as a Country: America could use leadership that emphasizes what binds us together as citizens in this great country, rather than encouraging people to focus on differences in our backgrounds and ethnicities. How refreshing it would be to have political leaders who inspire and encourage us to be better, more involved citizens, working to help ourselves as well as our communities!

Americans deserve political leaders — and ultimately a commander in chief — who respect them and our country’s founding principles that have enabled so many people, from so many different backgrounds, to thrive. That type of leader could bring real and much-needed change to Washington, and improve the lives of people across our country in the years to come.