Saturday, December 22, 2007

Op Ed: Caucus Choices Analysis [Dec. 22]

December 22, 2007, 6:00 a.m.

Democrats who attend their precinct caucus the evening of January 3 will suffer the blessing of too many wonderful choices. Here's this morning's [Dec. 22] op ed with my suggested analysis for sorting through them to a choice. (And see also on that page the adjoining column by former Congressman Jim Leach, "We should look to Eisenhower, not Reagan, in 21st century.")

Qualities to keep in mind when picking a president

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 22, 2007, p. 15A


All the Democratic Party's presidential candidates would make good-to-excellent presidents. How to choose?

Here are some suggestions from an Iowa-born old Washington hand.

• Don't miss the caucus. Take a friend. New York's Boss Tweed said, "I don't care who does the electing, just so long as I do the nominating." This is your chance to do the nominating. Plus, it's fun.

• Don't rely on "positions" and rhetoric. A campaign is not a presidency. Even if meaningful and honestly spoken, political forces and conditions change.

• Forget "electability." Any Democratic Party nominee is electable in 2008. (Although Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's high negatives create some risk.) Consider their ability to govern.

• Forget the media's top three. Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards are going to New Hampshire regardless. Use your chance to "vote twice." Support one of the others you want kept in the race. If they're not initially "viable" at your caucus you can switch.
Experience at everything

All have "experience" at something. But a president needs experience at everything. Who has the broadest, deepest range of experience?

An American president is policy wonk in chief as well as commander in chief. Federal personnel director as well as national cheerleader. They must maintain our economy while improving our foreign relations. Above all, they must have superior, large-institution administrative skills and experience.

When they negotiate and deal with other major institutions it gives them credibility as well as real understanding if they've worked within them: Congress, cabinet positions, municipal and state governments, international organizations, and negotiations with foreign leaders.

We don't have a school for presidents. There's no parliamentary system to provide the ultimate prime ministers both administrative and legislative experience.

Quality rankings

So here are the qualities I'm looking for -- followed by my opinion of who ranks highest.

• Experience administering large institutions (state or large city governments, corporations) -- Gov. Bill Richardson (governor; Secretary of Energy), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (mayor of Cleveland).

• A "people person" with charisma or down-home manner, sense of humor (including self-deprecation), or what Molly Ivins called "Elvis" -- Obama (charisma and "Elvis"), Richardson (down-home; humor).

• The understanding and credibility earned by working inside both Washington's executive and legislative branches -- Richardson (cabinet (Energy), Congress). (Legislative: Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, Obama, Richardson and Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd).

• A willingness to put forward courageous, "best policy" proposals, rather than "starting off backing up" --Kucinich (only one to organize and vote against the war, and propose universal single-payer health care rather than for-profit insurance).

• Experience working inside international organizations (e.g., U.N., World Bank) -- Richardson (UN ambassador).

• Understanding of the elements and process of citizen empowerment -- Obama (community organizer).

• An understanding of foreign policy (as distinguished from administering it) -- Biden, Dodd (plus, of course, Richardson).

• An ability to work with, but an independence from, special interest money and influence (the "Washington Establishment") -- My guess is that all have, can (and will have to) work with Washington's real power centers.

However, Clinton's strength in this department is her weakness. She and Bill could probably name all of their 4,000 presidential appointees in one evening without notes. But part of the reason for their millions from corporate lobbyists and PACs is the Washington Establishment's expectation of another pro-corporate, business-as-usual Clinton administration.

• Experience negotiating with foreign leaders -- Richardson (North Korea, Iraq, Sudan; U.N.; return of hostages); Biden and Dodd.

• Champion of the underdog -- Edwards, Kucinich.
You may have a different list of qualities and evaluation of candidates. But I hope this kind of approach may be helpful to you in a year when we are blessed with a very tough choice from among excellent candidates.
Nicholas Johnson served as maritime administrator, FCC commissioner and presidential adviser for a White House Conference during the terms of three presidents. He now teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains the blog,,/i>

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Anonymous said...

All of the hype, ads, and general celebrity culture following the candidates has convinced me that we should get rid of this primary system altogether. By almost any OBJECTIVE measure, Richardson is the most qualified candidate; Been governor, been in congress, been a diplomat, etc. Yet, he can't get any traction. Why? the cult of Hillary and Obama. The media loves Hillary because she is a candidate that brings out divisions and heated rhetoric...she feeds the beast. Same with Obama and his ability to articulate. Would the old smoke filled back rooms give us worse candidates? Since it seems that it is mostly the committed Left and committed Right that participate in the nominating, I would say no.

Bring back the Smoke Filled Rooms!!

Anonymous said...

Fred Thompson is one of the most straightforward politicians I've seen. To quote an old saying, "he says what he means, and means what he says". He understands the world we live in, the gravity of our war on terrorism and the geopolitics involved, our national security requirements, as well as the necessity of a strong economy, and proficient health and educational systems. And he understands what role the federal government should take in these matters and what roles it should not, states rights. You see, Fred is a firm believer in our constitution. He's quite outspoken for our 2nd ammendment rights because of that belief. Go to to see for yourself his stances on the issues and his plans for improvement