Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Picking a President

Last week on Commentary/Contentions Peter Wehner had a good post on how we choose a president. http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/06/09/backing-a-candidate-can-be-an-act-of-faith/  As we seem to be getting started on the campaign for 2012 this is a useful topic that probably doesn't get enough attention.  To be sure, any discussion of the relative merits of candidates, whether person a or b should get in the race, etc, has within it the thread of what it takes to be president.  But it strikes me that this is to some extent backwards.  We pick a candidate, usually on the basis of liking their views on a few issues, and then we go looking for justifications as to why they are qualified.  And because there is no clear cut answer to the question, justifications aren't hard to find.  It would make more sense to think about the qualities needed to be president, clarify our thinking on a criteria, and then evaluate candidates, recognizing throughout that these are presumptive criteria not absolute.

To which a few thoughts:

1)  It is dismaying to see how little attention is paid to foreign policy.  One would think that this is a relatively minor part of what the president does instead of the area where the president has the greatest, direct responsiblity.  Moreover, anyone who is interested in politics is going to have a fairly well established view of domestic policy, but this is not the case with foreign policy where a real concerted effort to learn the subject is required.  An effort that goes well beyond what can be accomplished by cramming during the campaign season.  We should be looking for a reasonably well thought out, coherent view of foreign affairs.

2)  The modern president is an executive position with the key requirement of being able to manage.  The president needs to be able to select good, qualified people to key posts, set a general direction, and then manage his staff. 

3)  We shouldn't forget that politics is a profession.  Disappointment with the political class might tempt us to look outside politics for a president but this should be resisted. 

4)  Experience may not be everything, but isn't nothing.  I don't agree with Barack Obama's political philosophy, but I have no doubt that he's a decent, very intelligent guy.  But at the time he was elected his resume would fit comfortably on a credit card.  Why did we think he was ready to be president?

Similarly, if I were living in her district I have no doubt that I would support Michele Bachmann in her House races.  But she hasn't run anything of any size.  Her political experience is state senator and as a Representative in the House since 2007.  Why is she ready to be president?

All that said, it is in the end, as Wehner points out "an act of faith."  By my criteria Bush I should've been a better president than Reagan and I should be supporting Romney rather than hoping for a viable alternative.

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