Friday, January 04, 2008

Presidential Qualifications

Dr. Lawrence Lindsey spent six years as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. He has served in a variety of economic advisory positions in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations. Having seen the inner workings of three White House administrations up close and having had experience with other administrations, Lindsey feels qualified to provide a list of what he feels are minimum (non-partisan) qualifications for the presidency in this WSJ op-ed piece.

“Our job as voters should be to select someone who will (1) know what he or she doesn't know, (2) get up to speed quickly, and (3) avoid making serious mistakes in the meantime.”

To help voters determine which candidates fill this bill, and to provide additional qualifications, Lindsay suggests three questions that should be applied to each candidate.

  • 1. “Has the candidate faced a crisis or overcome a major setback in his or her life?”
  • 2. “Has has the candidate had a variety of life experiences?”
  • 3. “Can the candidate tell the difference between a foreign enemy and a political opponent?”
Of these qualifications, Lindsey writes, “No candidate is going to be perfect, and reasonable people can differ about whether a certain candidate possesses each of these traits. But these are a good filter.” Lindsay does a decent job of discussing why each of these questions is important. He also says that some past executives haven’t measured up. For example, neither Johnson nor Nixon could have passed muster on the third question. In sum, Lindsey says, “I have become a firm believer that the character traits someone brings to the job are more important than the issue papers or debate sound bites that get so much attention in the primaries.”

One of the problems of our current system of selecting presidents, Lindsay contends, is that it is better at selecting good candidates than at selecting good Chief Executives. He laments that “the process of selecting a president has little to do with the skills needed for the job.”

Conservative pundit John O’Sullivan puts forth in this NRO article some additional considerations, which Lindsay seems to be brushing aside. Although written from a conservative standpoint, it is possible to think of his discussion in a non-partisan way. I think Lindsay is correct in his contention that character supersedes issue statements in importance, but O’Sullivan is not off base when he suggests that candidates must necessarily also be ranked by how well they agree with the voter on issues.

Lindsay takes the luxury of pooh-poohing the current presidential selection process, but O’Sullivan accepts reality when he contends that candidates must also be ranked by their likelihood of winning. Adding O’Sullivan’s qualifiers means that some candidates that might in principle meet all of Lindsay’s tests might still rank low based on their positions and/or their perceived competitiveness. But applying Lindsay’s tests to O’Sullivan’s qualifiers means that some candidates with whom we might find more agreement and who might seem competitive are yet unqualified to serve.

O’Sullivan also entertains the concept that a party’s loss of a White House race might be acceptable under certain conditions. If the opponent will be a weak, unsuccessful president and/or if the party’s nominee will pull the party too far from its moorings, a loss might be preferable to a win, O’Sullivan contends. It might lead to something much better down the road. (This, of course approaches the issue as what is good for the party, and not necessarily what is good for the nation.)

Included in this is the question of how well the candidate can hold the party coalition together. Both major parties consist of competing groups that agree on enough points to form a coalition. While the power of various groups has waxed and waned, the groups that form the two parties’ coalitions have pretty much been the same since the mid-70s. Speculation as to the break-up of each party’s coalitions has frequently popped up because intra-party relationships between coalition groups have been nothing if not contentious. There are periods where these contentions are less publicly apparent, but they do not go away. When they roil to the surface, speculation of a break up is bandied about.

The GOP has more surface contention than the Democratic Party at the moment. There is concern that a candidate that cannot appeal to the whole coalition would destroy the coalition. For example, Giuliani might disappoint social conservatives, and Huckabee might disappoint libertarians and fiscal conservatives. A non-uniting candidate could cause the coalition to split, like it did in 1992 with Bush I and Perot. But, as it was in 1992, the split would prove temporary. History shows that major groups permanently leave major parties only when they perceive a better fit in the other major party. That’s not a happening thing right now for any major group in either party.

At any rate, it seems that most voters and pundits consider chiefly three things about potential candidates: 1) Is this candidate most likely to win? 2) How closely do I agree with this candidate? 3) Do I like this candidate’s personality? Sometimes the order of these questions is switched. Most Ron Paul supporters, for example, would switch #1 and #2, or maybe even move #1 to #3.

These questions are not unimportant. I think, however, we would do well to add to our analysis the tests suggested by Dr. Lindsey. Does the candidate have experience overcoming personal disaster? Has the candidate had a broad variety of life experiences? Does the candidate harshly regard foreign foes of our liberty while regarding domestic opponents without malice? Regardless of party affiliation, these are good questions to ask about each candidate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vary interesting