Setting the Record Straight

September 5, 2008

Vet, CEO Or U.S. President

President Judgment, Judgment, Judgment

     Much is being made during this presidential campaign about military experience and executive experience as important criteria for serving as president. It is all a bunch of bunk.
     Those who make those claims are either unknowledgeable about the job or trying to fool you. Neither service has anything to do with being an effective president.
     A chart of the military and gubernatorial experience of our presidents of the past 70 years is revealing. Between Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, neither of which served in the military, all of our presidents did. So what?
     Only Dwight Eisenhower ever made any military decisions during his service. Only John Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and the would-be John McCain saw any significant action, and none of them actually made significant military decisions. Among all of the presidents we have had the past 70 years, which have served us best during times of military strife?
     Scratch military experience.
     Claiming executive experience in almost all cases means the candidate has been a governor of a state. So what? Maybe the odd one or two of them led a company, but who cares.
     Over that same 70-year period, we have had five former governors as president. FDR was one, but not until 1977 and Jimmy Carter did we elect another. Then followed Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. How did they serve us any better than the elder Bush, Gerald Ford, Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Harry Truman, who did not?
     Check the scenario to the right as one example of what a president faces and a governor does not. And neither does a company executive, who in that phone call would be told what is being done or has been done about the crisis at the plant because he or she relies on the expertise of those below him for snap decisions.
     Supporters of Sarah Palin struggle to tout her “executive experience” as qualifying her to be a heartbeat away from being president in a setting she has never seen and which she has acknowledged she does not understand. To support that idea, the analogy is drawn between a president of a country and the president of a company, a CEO if you prefer.
     The CEO can hire cronies, maneuver to get friends on the board of directors that would uphold his or her decisions, bribe people with lunches, plane trips and other favors, all of them legal in the private world, but illegal or impossible in government. The CEO’s aim is not to make money—he or she already has oodles—it is to try to accumulate more money than anyone else. The thrill for CEOs is in the making of money, not the having of it.
     Neither a CEO nor a governor has to elicit the help of peers to carry out a policy associated with his or her job. Each is on his own. A president, on the other hand, must conduct foreign policy by convincing his peers, heads of other nations, that his policy is the correct one. We all know what happened when former Gov. and CEO Bush tried to go it alone and how his peers view him today.
     A governor makes provincial decisions. Palin governs a state far more provincial than most; it has fewer than a million people even though it has the largest land mass. The object of the contrast she is intended to make—with Barack Obama, who has a similar number of years in elected office—represents a state of 13 million, but is one of only 535 contributing to decisions that affect more than 300 million people, and on international issues, possibly the entire world population and its future.
     Obama and other senators do not gain experience in making “executive decisions” by virtue of serving in Congress. The experience they do gain is immersion in national and international affairs, the very knowledge they need if they go on to serve in the White House.
     But most importantly, if one reviews the U.S. presidents of the past 60 years, one realizes there are no specific criteria to serving as president. It is a job that requires the ability to inspire people to follow, to develop policies that serve the national constituency and above all, backed by a lot of knowledge and at least a little experience, but most of all, judgment, judgment, judgment, but most of all, judgment based on knowledge.



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