I began writing this post when the field for the Democratic Primary was narrowed down to a two-man contest. Before that, I was amused that the choices on that side of the ballot included a woman, but the press did their best to pretend that Tulsi didn’t exist. After Tulsi capitulated*, I reflected back on the days when the field packed multiple stages to host the debates.
As the candidates were being eliminated, there were strong voices to winnow the field based on background and experience (or, more importantly, lack thereof). Certainly those who sought their elimination thought they were unsuited to becoming President. What disqualified them was not their policy – the policy differences between candidates were minor. Some of it was personality, of course. However, in many cases there was that question of qualification. Given this background or that background, which of these people are fit to be our President?
So how does one prepare to become President? Are their backgrounds that make a “good” president? A “successful” president? Can I separate that from politics? In other words, if someone is very successful at implementing horrible policy, how does that rank?
I tried putting this all together a table. I attempted to place each former (and current) president into only one category – the one I deem to be the most relevant. Of course, many would qualify under multiple categories. Reagan was a celebrated actor, yes, but was he better known as the Governor of California? I also neglect the legislative experience of many candidates (Jefferson rankles more than Obama or Kennedy, but your mileage may vary). Does coming up through state and national legislative bodies qualify someone? Or is executive experience more important?
|Governor||Carter, Polk, Clinton, Monroe, Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Roosevelt|
|General||Washington, Eisenhower, Jackson, Grant, Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Garfield|
|Dynastic||Bush II, JQ Adams|
|Civil Service||Bush I|
|Cabinet||Van Buren, Jefferson, Madison, Hoover|
|Vice-President||John Adams, Fillmore, both Johnsons, Truman|
|Lawyer||Lincoln, Hayes, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley, Taft, Nixon|
For the early office holders, their status as Founding Fathers probably outweighs their other government backgrounds. However, that qualification doesn’t enlighten one relative today’s contests. Maybe in 2024?
Also, in attempting to account for all presidents to date, I have a hard time classifying Warren Harding. Business experience** aside, he seems to have been a career politician and not a particularly notable one at that. He did manage to win a term to the U.S. Senate and was also Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor, but his backing seems to come more from party politics. Oh yes, he is also considered by many to be the worst of the U.S. Presidents.
So what backgrounds serve the people the best? These days, conservatives seem to be enamored by film and television stars. I can pick some ex-Governors out among my favorites but this distinction also belongs to the left’s heroes (and, correspondingly, some of my least favorites). I derogatorily referred to the relatively youthful Kennedy and Obama as groomed candidates. To me, their short legislative experience and rapid rise to national prominence indicate a life preparing for the presidency. That is, of course, highly debatable and, moreover, I would probably lose that debate. Nevertheless, whatever their qualifications, these two rank at the top of the Left’s favorites.
What does that tell us about next week’s contest? Probably not much. Trump’s CV is dominated by the fact that he is a sitting president, so I don’t think that’s very enlightening, my categorization aside. Biden would fall under the Vice-President category, although I think his true distinction is his long, long years in the U.S. Senate.
Oddly enough, this might actually shed some light on the Democratic Primary outcome. While I can’t pick out the “best” set of qualifications for president, I have managed to create a limited number of categories. Among these, and especially among the better-populated of them, Biden stands out with his successful VP position on the Obama ticket. Harris’ legal background also puts her into a heavily-populated category. Might I actually be on to something?
I doubt it.
*For many of my acquaintances, Tulsi Gabbard was the top choice on either side of this primary. As far as I could tell, it was primarily based upon her anti-war, pro-marijuana stance. Her anti-Hillary rant won her some points across the political spectrum. I know a few U.S. military veterans that met her at a VFW function and said she seemed intelligent and well-spoken, albeit wrong (from their perspective) on the issues. I can’t imagine my libertarian friends were happy with her, ultimately, endorsing Biden.
**He successfully built a struggling newspaper, The Marion Star, into a profitable concern. Even here, though, his business practices are often criticized.