Sunday, April 28, 2019

Presidential Experience

Click HERE for the application to some of the top Democratic candidates of the criteria set forth in this column.
* Presidential Candidates Rankings, April 15, 2019 (with updates)
* Impeachment and the Mueller Report, April 22, 2019 (with update),
* Presidential Experience: How Your Candidate Measures Up, April 28, 2019
* Democrats Qualified for Debates: Will Your Candidate be in the Debates? April 29, 2019
* Dem Primary Candidates' Ranking - May 2, 2019: How's Your Candidate Ranked?, May 2, 2019
* May 4 Updates: Popularity; Klobuchar; Iowa 2nd District, May 4, 2019
* What Dems are up against; some insights from 2-1/2 years ago: Donald Trump’s Barrel of Squirrels: How Does the Donald Do It? Sept. 26 2016
* Attacks on our democracy and what we can do about it: Columns of Democracy available from Iowa City’s Prairie Lights and Amazon.
Democrats in 2020 Should Value Experienced Candidate
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 28, 2019, p. D3

Why focus on the Democrats’ presidential primary? Because of the 13 elected presidents since 1932 (Gerald Ford was appointed) only two who wanted reelection didn’t win (Presidents Jimmy Carter and H.W. Bush). This history, plus President Donald Trump’s loyal base, suggest the 2020 election is Trump’s to lose.

Democrats want a winning candidate. They should also want a competent president.

There’s a path to becoming British Prime Minister. There’s none for our presidency: 17 presidents were former governors, 14 vice presidents, eight cabinet secretaries, three came directly from the Senate, for five it was their first election. None had to meet education or experience requirements, take training programs or read manuals.

We want character, compassion, compromise, courage and curiosity in our presidents – along with intelligence, honesty, decency and other commendable personal qualities. Competence alone isn’t enough.

No candidate will have the wide range of experience a president needs, but the more the better.

In the 2008 Democratic primary Bill Richardson won the experience challenge. He understood legislative process from 15 years in the U.S. House, state government from two terms as governor, and federal as former Secretary, Department of Energy. He had administered large organizations and had the international perspective of a former U.N. ambassador credited with successful hostage negotiations.

Richardson used this in a comedic political spot.

A man interviewing him for a job recites Richardson’s resume and then asks him, “So, what makes you think you can be president?”

George H.W. Bush had a comparable record: CIA director, House member, U.N. ambassador, chief liaison China, Republican National Committee chair, and eight years as vice president.

What’s the range of helpful experience?

Administering eight million federal, military, and contract employees requires unique skills. Having been a governor, big city mayor, or cabinet officer helps.

There are “political people” – those who have run for office, managed campaigns, served constituents, and know the norms. It helps to have been one.

Presidents impact many government institutions: school boards, mayors and city councils, county supervisors, governors, state legislatures, Congress, Cabinet departments, the judiciary and the military. Has your candidate had experience within those institutions?

Presidents needn’t be former constitutional law professors, but they need to understand and support, emotionally as well as intellectually, the Constitution’s limitations on, as well as powers of, the presidency.

Having been a U.S. Senator is not enough. But understanding the executive-legislative relationship is essential, and it helps to have been a legislator somewhere.

There are 4,000 presidential appointments. Some candidates could list 4,000 qualified appointees from memory. Others struggle to name a couple dozen. Where will your candidate look? How will they choose?

A range of life experiences and acquaintances from high school dropouts to Ph.D. professors; multiple ethnicities and religions; labor leaders and CEOs; impoverished and wealthy; urban and rural; agricultural, manufacturing and retail employees, makes for a more competent and compassionate president.

The president must be an international player and may become a global leader. Having worked with and for organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, NATO, or as an ambassador, provides insight. Failing that, previous education, multiple languages, and world travel can help a president to frame questions and understand the answers.

While we’re enjoying the excitement of evaluating our stampede of wannabe candidates let’s give at least some thought to their qualifications as wannabe presidents. Measure them against this list, and then ask them, “What makes you think you can be president?” [Photo credit:]

Nichholas Johnson, a native Iowan and three-time presidential appointee, maintains for his latest book. Comments:


Application of Experience Criteria to Top Democrats

1. What is meant by "experience"? To have been a vice president, or senator, is an experience, but is not "the experience" referenced here.

The breadth of desirable experience for a president is more like the experience, understanding and skills one would hope for a decathlon competitor. In track competition a decathlon consists of four track and six field events, a total of 10 events. Competitions include 100-meter sprint, 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter event, 1500-meter event, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus throw, javelin throw and pole vault. My high school track experience consisted of shot put and discus. Even had I possessed skill in those events decathlons would have been out of the question. Javelin perhaps, but I've never tried to pole vault, and there was good reason for the coach to keep me out of running events.

Similarly, it is not enough that a president has been a governor, or senator, or ambassador. What one would hope for, ideally, is a candidate with experience in each of the eight (and more) categories of experience detailed in the column, above, and summarily repeated, below.

2. Is lack of experience a deal-breaker? In brief, "No." It is a relevant factor in comparing candidates that is often overlooked. There are many legitimate, relevant reasons for preferring one candidate over another. Experience is but one of them. Others are mentioned in the column, above.

3. What about Trump's "experience"? In fairness to the Democratic candidates, all of whom are fairly light in the experience department (as the word is used here), it should be noted that each and every one of them far exceeds Trump -- who fails to qualify in almost all of the eight categories

Comparing the Leaders

To remind, the categories, above, are:
1. Administration and management of huge organizations.
2. "Political" savy.
3. Range of institutions exposure.
4. Constitutional knowledge.
5. Legislative experience.
6. Network of quality potential appointees.
7. Range of acquaintances and life experience.
8. International understanding.
I've chosen six candidates for comparison: Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris, Warren and O'Rourke.

1. Administrative. All are lacking administrative and management experience leading huge organizations. All have had some experience in smaller settings: Harris' role as California Attorney General; Sanders and Buttigieg as relatively small-town mayors; Biden heading various projects while reporting to President Obama. None has served as a governor or federal cabinet secretary.

2. Political. All have run for and won one or more elections.

3. Institutional range. The range of their institutional familiarity is limited. Two have served on a city council (Biden and O'Rourke). Harris served as a state's attorney general; Biden was once a public defender; Warren a professor in higher education institutions.

Buttigieg is the only one with actual military service. None has even worked in, let alone headed, the Pentagon, CIA or other intelligence agencies. Warren served on the Senate Armed Services Committee; O'Rourke on the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees.

I'm sure there's more, but in the column, above, I mention "school boards, mayors and city councils, county supervisors, governors, state legislatures, Congress, Cabinet departments, the judiciary and the military" and few have touched more than one or two of those bases.

4. Constitution. Three are lawyers (Biden, Harris and Warren), but that is not the equivalent of a mastery of constitutional law or involvement in controversies in which the constitution was an issue. Of course, constitutional and Supreme Court interest and study, with emphasis on Article II executive power, is not restricted to those with law degrees.

5. Legislative. All but Buttigieg have legislative experience in the U.S. Senate or House. There may be some with state legislative experience that research did not uncover.

6. Network. Biden probably has the edge in the number of contacts with individuals qualified to serve the federal government in some professional capacity (which is what this category is about). The others would not have reason to have a breadth of such contacts (beyond the specialties of their committees other other life work). Of course, those who have made it to the debates on the basis of number of donors have at least a political network of 200 people in 20 states: Sanders (563,359), Buttigieg (158,568), Harris (138,000), Warren (134,902), O'Rourke (>65,000). But that's not what this category is about.

7. Diversity. There's no way (at least that I know of) to find out the range of acquaintances and life experiences of the leading candidates with sufficient detail and accuracy to make meaningful judgments and comparisons. That does not detract from the significance of this category, or the possibility one might pick up bits and pieces if attuned to looking for them.

8. International. So far as my scanning of their bios revealed none has the kind of international experience described in the column: "United Nations, World Bank, NATO, or as an ambassador." Biden as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and vice president, had significant foreign travel and meetings with leaders of other countries. Buttigieg's military service included time spent in Afghanistan; he is said to know eight languages.

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