Running for President seems to be going the way of sex and reality television – everyone’s doing it. Here we are, two years from inauguration day 2008 and there seems to be 3,276, yes that many, people running for the Nation’s highest office.
Some are household names already – Barack, McCain, Rudy, and Hillary. Others are lesser known but potentially very strong contendors – Gilmore, Romney, Richardson, and Vilsack. And some are just insane – see Chris Dodd, Duncan Hunter, and Joe Biden.
The number one problem I have with many of these candidates is that they don’t have any sort of executive experience. That bothers me, and it should bother you too.
The experience question is one of the first things voters ask when assessing a candidate, and for good reason. But the type of experience should also be questioned because not all experience is the same. For me executive level experience (governor, mayor, etc.) is the key indicator. It means you are accountable, you are the decision-maker, you are the “decider” – to borrow a bit of vernacular from one of our Commander-in-Chief’s more memorable moments.
And the Congress, for obvious reasons, doesn’t foster that type of experience. The legislative branch was designed, based on my limited understanding of our founding fathers’ intentions, to be a deliberative body. In other words talk is their thing. Former Senator George Allen once told me how much more he preferred the Governor’s mansion in Richmond to the Senate simply because in the latter, “all [they] do is talk.” Couldn’t agree more.
That’s probably why our country hasn’t elected a Senator right out of the Senate since that guy named Kennedy. And while it is impressive to have experience in the Senate or the House, what real accountability making tough calls on tough issues do you have when you are one of 100 or one of 435? Not too much.
In that position, it’s real easy to hurl insults, wax poetic, point fingers, and pontificate. But when you the person where the proverbial buck stops, life is a little harder, a little more challenging, and a little more intense. Say what you will about President George W. Bush, but the man knows how to make a decision and not second guess it. Where did he learn that? Well he’s a natural leader to be sure. But he also ran one of America’s largest states. Decisions needed to be made and he made them, for good or bad. Into the oval office, the President followed in the footsteps of other executive deciders like Clinton, Reagan, Carter, and Nixon.
Without that experience, I worry that many of the current candidates have not been put in the tough make-or-break situations. And I think most voters agree, just take a look at the 2000 and 2004 elections. Both Democratic candidates were accomplished Senators who had the same problem – they couldn’t communicate their positions on issues in a clear and consistent manner. When asked about the war, Kerry fumbled his way through explaining how he voted for the Iraq war before voted against it. Gore handled even more taxing matters – his favorite ice cream flavor – with similar clarity and decisiveness. As writer Meghan Keane described, “The man flounder[ed] over his favorite ice cream flavor for fear that a group might find chocolate chip demeaning to their race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
Are these guys smart and capable? Sure. So why do they have such problems stating opinions and making decisions? I think the legislative branch has made them into the creatures that they are. They talk, they don’t answer. They play both sides. They don’t need to account to anybody.
Turning back to the current slate of candidates, many of these folks face similar handicaps. John McCain, John Edwards, Chuck Hagel (if he gets in), Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Barack, and Hillary collectively have, let me get out the calculator here, ZERO executive experience. More problematically, Barack barely has any legislative experience either. So who does that leave when you take them out of the equation?
On the Republican side, you have Mitt Romney (governor), Rudy Guiliani (mayor), Mike Huckabee (governor – hopefully he can come up with something to run on other than losing weight) Jim Gilmore (governor), and potentially George Pataki (governor). On the Democratic side, there is Tom Vilsack (governor) and my personal dark horse, Bill Richardson (governor and former major league baseball draftee).
That’s a good crew of candidates in my humble opinion. They all share that common thread of experience that can only come when you are the one who makes the final call. The President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of our great nation but he is also the Chief Executive Officer. That second word means something and we should continue the trend of electing individuals with that type of experience. America doesn’t need any more talkers, we need doers.
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