Monday, August 20, 2007

Choosing the Next Prez: Part II

I was really hoping that this process of picking the best candidate in each party was going to be a dialogue or a trialogue or even a multilogue. However, none of you responded to my first “Choosing the Next Prez” post. So I guess this is going to be a lecture.

Of course, according to the media, both broadcast and print, this is a meaningless exercise. The media have already decided, based almost entirely on how much campaign money has been raised, that only three Democratic candidates—Senators Clinton and Obama, and former Senator Edwards—have any chance of winning their party’s nomination. Among Republicans, the media have decided that only two—former New York City mayor Guiliani and former Massachusetts governor Romney—can win the nomination. (Of course, the media may add an additional Republican if a certain actor who is a former Senator decides to run).

Despite the decision by the media, and despite the fact that I, along with millions of other voters, will never have any say in who our party nominates for president, I will go forward with this analysis.

You and I are hiring the next President of the United States. We have to review the resumes of all the prospective candidates to see who is most qualified. But before we do that we have to consider the job description for the president.

The president is the leader of our country. S/he is also the leader of the Free World (whatever that means). S/he is the Commander in Chief of the military of the United States. Further, the president is the chief executive officer of the Executive Branch of our government. S/he is also our country’s top diplomat. The president also appoints (with the consent of the Senate) all federal judges and the top leadership of all of the departments and agencies of the Executive Branch.

So what kind of experience should we look for in our next president? In what kind of a job would a person demonstrate the kind of talents he or she will need to do the job? The resumes of the candidates show they have filled such jobs as United States Senator, United States Representative, state governor, city mayor, federal cabinet secretary, attorney, college professor, actor, state legislator, state cabinet secretary, minister, business executive, author and military officer. Does any of this experience demonstrate that a particular candidate has the skills and talent to be President of the United States?

The three leading candidates among Democrats are incumbent or former United States Senators. Does being a senator (or representative or state legislator) prepare someone to be president? As we have described the job, almost all of the president’s functions are executive, managerial or diplomatic. Yet, the job of a legislator requires no executive or managerial skills. A legislator drafts legislation, builds coalitions to get that legislation enacted, sits on committees and debates either in committee or on the floor of the legislature. Although serving several years in the Senate or House of Representatives may allow a legislator to develop a great deal of expertise in one or more areas of public policy, it provides that legislator with no executive or managerial experience. Even committee chairs develop only a minimum of leadership skills.

But haven’t senators always been the leading candidates for president. Actually, since the Constitution was amended to provide for popular election of senators, rather than their appointment by state legislatures, only two United States Senators have been elected president. The first, Warren Harding, elected in 1920, will never be considered in the top 50% of presidential quality. He accomplished very little as president and his administration is mostly known for corruption. The second was John Kennedy, elected in 1960. Although Kennedy was a great orator and able to inspire great numbers of Americans, an assassin’s bullet prevents us from judging how good a president he may have been. Based on his less than three years in office, I can say that he was not effective in getting most of his legislative program enacted. He approved the Bay of Pigs invasion then decided to withdraw support when things started going badly. He started the escalation of American presence in Viet Nam. He successfully avoided nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I loved John F. Kennedy; he triggered my life-long fascination with politics. However, I don’t think that being a United States Senator adequately prepared him for being president.

Since Kennedy’s election in 1960, four United States Senators—Goldwater, McGovern, Dole and Kerry—have run for president. All of them have lost. If we look at the men elected for the first time as president since 1960, four have been incumbent or former state governors and two have been incumbent or former Vice Presidents. It seems clear to me that the American electorate favors candidates with executive experience.

So, if we look at all those resumes, which candidates have had executive or managerial experience?

Dennis Kucinich, Democrat………… Mayor, Cleveland, Ohio, 1977-79

Bill Richardson, Democrat……………Governor, New Mexico, 2003-present
Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy, 1998-2001

Rudy Giuliani, Republican…………….Mayor, City of New York, 1994-2001

Mike Huckabee, Republican………..Business executive, 1983-1996

Mitt Romney, Republican…………….Governor, Massachusetts, 2003-2007
Business executive, 1978-84

Sam Brownback……………………………Secretary, Kansas Dept. of Agr., 1986-93

None of the following candidates have listed any executive experience:

Joe Biden, Democrat
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat
Chris Dodd, Democrat
John Edwards, Democrat
Mike Gravel, Democrat
Barack Obama, Democrat
Duncan Hunter, Republican
John McCain, Republican
Ron Paul, Republican
Tom Tancredo, Republican

If I were the H.R. director for any corporation looking for a Chief Executive Officer, I would have to reject the applications of Democrats Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel and Obama, and Republicans Hunter, McCain, Paul and Tancredo (and the actor if he gets into the race). None of them have the executive experience we are looking for.

(Of course, experience isn’t everything. One man, who was a lawyer and whose only public service was a term in the Illinois legislature and a term in the House of Representatives, was elected our sixteenth president. He did a pretty decent job I am told).

(Part III to follow soon).

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