To Pick a President 1 - Experience

Thinking about what a President should be, before we pick one.

Three years ago, a majority of American voters were in thrall to the electrifying personage of Sen. Barack Obama - or at least, his visage on our TV screens or behind a podium, in front of which swooned swarms of worshipers.  Chris Matthews said it for the entire commentariat; when he described the "thrill running up his leg" at Obama's appearance, it sounded for all the world like a teenager sounding off upon meeting the Beatles.  Mr. Obama can count himself lucky that he wasn't deluged under a pile of thrown panties.

My, how things change!  Today, even the left is sullenly admitting that President Obama doesn't know what he's doing; that they were blinded by his oratory and by their own hopes for what could be.

The warnings were there, of course.  If they'd been reading Scragged, to say nothing of listening to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, they'd have known about Obama's terrorist friends, his Marxist economics, his views against American exceptionalism and in favor of world citizenship, not to mention his utter lack of leadership experience.  But they refused to even look, and now it's too late.

In an effort to avoid making the same mistake again, while not getting too bogged down in the specifics of any one candidate, let's talk about what we should be looking for in a President - not as a politician, or even on a policy basis, but as a person.

Experience Maketh the Man

Every politician likes to cite experience as a reason for your vote; but not all experience is the same.  Joe Biden was in the Senate almost since the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, yet the idea of him as President impels derisive laughter.  Hugh Hefner has started a highly successful global company from scratch, but somehow we think that his experience would not count for much in the voting booth.

Experience is important though; newcomers to leadership don't do well in the Oval Office, as Mr. Obama has amply demonstrated times without number.  What sort of experience should America be looking for in a president?


The obvious form of presidential experience is serving in the military; most, though not all, of our Presidents have served in uniform and some in very high ranks.  Since the President is Commander-in-Chief, it's useful for him to have some idea what that entails.  As Mr. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State said, "It's hard when you give orders and your friends come home in body bags."

However, the link to the military isn't entirely positive.  George Washington was a fantastic President and a fantastic general.  Abraham Lincoln served in his local militia for a few weeks in 1832, accomplishing nothing whatsoever of note, yet as President he did just fine.  U.S. Grant was one of our finest generals, but when he got to the White House he did terribly.

John F. Kennedy was a legitimate war hero and a great orator, but a poor president who nearly got us into WW III.  Franklin Roosevelt had no military experience at all save a bureaucratic political position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but nobody questions his competence as Commander in Chief during WWII.  Go down the list, and there's no clear correlation.

In fact, you can make an argument that being a high-ranking military officer is bad preparation for the Presidency.  If you're a general, you can bark out an order to Do Something and have every confidence that Something Will Get Done.  In extreme situations, a general can shoot down a disobedient subordinate where he stands.

Nothing could be more unlike the Presidency.  Presidents have power, sure, but they don't have anything like the ability to compel obedience that a general does.  Save for the top couple hundred political appointees, the President can't even fire the thousands of bureaucrats in his own executive branch.

General Eisenhower, both a successful general and a successful President, is a superb example.  Yes, Ike was Supreme Allied Commander - but notice that word "Allied."  He couldn't just order British Field Marshal Montgomery around the way he could the American general Patton, much less French General Charles de Gaulle; they answered to a political hierarchy as different from the American hierarchy as Democrats differ from Republicans and Libertarians, perhaps more.

For every decision, Ike had to weigh not merely the military need but also the different political needs and objectives of his allies, relations with the partisans behind enemy lines, morale of the civilians at home, in England, and in occupied France, and a host of other factors, while still trying to defeat an enormously powerful enemy that posed an existential threat.  Somewhat uniquely, Eisenhower's generalship was the ideal preparation for the Presidency of a free democracy.  Only George Washington faced a comparable experience of being a politician and military commander at the same time.

So is military service irrelevant when picking a president?  No, but what matters is not the rank.

What's important is one simple fact: a candidate who, in earlier life, volunteered to put on America's uniform has personally demonstrated willingness to risk his own life in the defense of his country.  Nobody starts as a general; Kennedy was a Navy lieutenant who came perilously close to being killed just like any other nobody in the war despite his family's wealth.  His older brother actually was killed in the same war.  That says something good about his personal character and patriotism - something well worth knowing when picking a Commander in Chief.


Calvin Coolidge said long ago that "The business of America is business," so it seems commonsensical to want a President with some understanding of what it's like to run one.  We bemoan the complete absence of any serious business experience inside the Obama administration.

Yet when we look back through history, not one single President was previously the head of a giant corporation.  Several have tried - Ross Perot and Donald Trump come to mind - but they've not gotten far.  The closest we've come was Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-CEO of Halliburton, but he was never President and didn't really want to be.

So Presidents aren't businessmen?  Far from it; almost all have been, but always small businessmen.  Abraham Lincoln was a partner in a general store which went bust.  Harry Truman owned an unsuccessful hat shop.  Jimmy Carter became wealthy as a peanut farmer, though it must be said that a fair amount of his revenue came from government subsidies which needed lubrication from the political process.

Why does this matter?  Being a small businessman is completely different from being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  A CEO almost never meets real, ordinary customers or worries about where the next payroll is coming from.  He spends his time on Wall Street with other rich people, talking in millions or billions of dollars.

Nor does a CEO have to worry about business-destroying regulations; when he picks up the phone, the Senator at the other end listens to him.  A really deadly regulation will be squashed, or more likely, artfully amended to give him a free pass and kneecap his smaller competitors.  He doesn't have to worry about the myriad of labor laws; he has an entire department of highly-paid experts and lawyers to take care of that for him, and another department to legally avoid taxes whilst muddying the water enough that even antagonistic investigative reporters can't figure out what was actually paid.

A small businessman, in contrast, must suffer the full force of egregious taxes and burdensome red tape without any help from on high.  A small business can be instantly shut down and bankrupted on any given day by a wayward bureaucrat with an axe to grind, or even a busybody neighbor; it happens every day.  A small businessman will from time to time lie awake Thursday night wondering how he is going to make Friday's payroll.  A small businessman most definitely knows and understands ordinary Americans; he has to, they're his customers and he sees them every day.

Again, it doesn't matter whether the candidate made it as a small businessman; in fact, failure is good preparation for being President.  Simply by operating a small business, you become a better person and a better leader because you've been forced to face many essential facts about economics, life, government, America, and Americans that other pursuits don't expose you to.  Mr. Wall St. Bigshot in his Gulfstream is as insulated from middle America as the Queen of England.


If there's one type of experience most political candidates love to tout, it's past political positions.  No doubt this is helpful to voters because almost every veteran politician has a voting record that tells us what they'll probably do if we put him or her in higher office.

Does the experience of government itself contribute to a successful Presidency?  Barack Obama has done nothing but government and academia his entire life, and the results speak for themselves.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton didn't have academic experience; his life truly was nothing but politics from the day he started his career.  Whatever you may think of his character, his was a long way from the bottom rank of presidencies.

What's the difference?  The type of political experience: Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, which means he was The Man, The Big Cheese, Mr. Buck-Stops-Here, The Decider, The LIghtning Rod, and so on.  Not only did he have power, he had direct responsibility and accountability for the outcomes of his decisions.

In other words, he learned by sad experience and the occasional electoral defeat that, no matter what, he had to give the voters what they wanted.  Most of the time, that means "It's the economy, stupid!"  Everything else, especially economically-devastating leftist ideology, had to take a back seat.

Compare this to Barack Obama who never held a position of responsibility until he sat down in the Oval Office.  A Senator is just one of 100; a state senator, much the same.  Even a professor doesn't bear responsibility for actual student learning, he gets points merely for showing up on time and talking.

As a result, we see a President who is so married to his leftism that the fact it's totally and blatantly failing means nothing; he blithely sails on bumping into icebergs, ignoring the shrieks of the public and the increasingly loud gurgle from belowdecks.  No President should do this, ever, but professors and Senators can be oblivious to reality and do it all the time.

To sum up: Experience in government is important, but only executive experience - a governor, or perhaps mayor of a very large city.  Anything else is not comparable and probably not even helpful.

We've talked about good life experiences that you'd want a President to have, but we haven't discussed experiences that are actually bad for a would-be President.  We'll look at those in the next article in this series.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

Osama bin Laden - Saddam Hussein - Barak Hussein Obama

Think of the lyrical 'associations' all of the above naturally evoke. Yet from 2001 to 2008 these associations were utterly flipped by the all pervasive Public Relations Regime.

'Osama bin Laden - Saddam Hussein' were the personification of the evil enemy in the "minds" of zombie America in 2001 and earlier. But with one well crafted PR campaign, that American mind was 'flipped' to make Barak Hussein Obama a hero, a champion of "hope and change."
This is an amazing psychological accomplishment.

"Thinking about what a President should be, before we pick one."~Petrarch

Before "WE" pick one???

Good lord...incredible naivete.

August 22, 2011 10:29 AM

An excerpt from Petrarch's article jumped out at me, "Most of the time, that means "It's the economy, stupid!" Everything else, especially economically-devastating leftist ideology, had to take a back seat."

How many times have we seen this admission of failure of ideological thinking by the moocher class because they know that what they espouse does not work? How about, "You can't raise taxes in this environment"?

If it is so obvious then why do we continue to put these moochers in office? Answer, greed and the want of something for nothing, typical human nature. When we as a country finally wake up and realize that the only way to improve our lives is through personal effort and not that of a vote buying scheme by one of the rock stars in DC.

Perhaps this time the electorate will be awakened but I have my doubts.

August 22, 2011 2:12 PM

You know what is funny, well funny peculuar, not ha ha - and I don't expect many will ge this here. But when I converse with 'Liberals' and 'Progressives' on other blogs, they always call me a "conservative", and argue against the if I were defending the Republicans, or the 'right' in my commentary. Because I argue against some of their preciously held ideas, they think it must be from the dialectical other "side". Even though I expalain myself very clearly - as I do here, that the L/R divide is a synthetic paradigm, put into action through the Hegelian dialectic to divide you into two camps.

It just flies right over the heads of both camps. Like here, the lable "Liberal. Lol

It is amazing to see this so clearly, and see it is totally invisable when one is locked inside one side or the other's box.

I am not saying that anyone hasn't the intelligence. And I have stressed this time and again. It is a psychological trap of conditioning. Just like a dog trained to come to a whistle. It bypasses the rational mind, and one just reacts automatically.

It shouldn't be taken as an insult - but THAT is part of the conditioning. A very strange round'a'bout to observe.

Whatever, take that as you will.

August 23, 2011 1:11 AM

The left and the right are in the same box. They just don't know it.
WW is correct (right). It is not stupidity, it is ignorance. There is a difference.
To climb out of the box with its well oiled slick sides is a difficult task. It is much easier to watch "American Gladiators", in whatever form it takes, whether a bunch of dumb-dumbs chasing a piece of dead pig up and down a pasture without cow patties, or dancing on a stage, than to actually look at the situation in which we find ourselves.
We now count among the starving millions, those who languish right here in the land of milk and honey.
One can not learn without proper nutrition. Proper nutrition has been outlawed by Monsanto.
The power of the individual is an awesome power. When enough of us wake up to that fact, the governments of the world will back down.
Remember the one lone Chinaman who stopped a line of tanks. When the tank turned, the lone man moved in front of it. The one lone man defeated the tanks. - without a weapon!
Thank you,
Robert Walker

August 23, 2011 3:14 PM

Did you know this about Herman Cain?
Bio on Herman Cain;

Herman Cain is running for president. He’s not a career politician (in fact he has never held political office). He’s known as a pizza guy, but there’s a lot more to him. He’s also a computer guy, a banker guy, and a rocket scientist guy.
Here’s his bio:
Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.
Master’s degree in Computer Science.
Mathematician for the Navy, where he worked on missile ballistics (making him a rocket scientist).
Computer systems analyst for Coca-Cola.
VP of Corporate Data Systems and Services for Pillsbury (this is the top of the ladder in the computer world, being in charge of information systems for a major corporation).
All achieved before reaching the age of 35. Since he reached the top of the information systems world, he changed careers!
Business Manager. Took charge of Pillsbury’s 400 Burger King restaurants in the Philadelphia area, which were the company’s poorest performers in the country. Spent the first nine months learning the business from the ground up, cooking hamburger and yes, cleaning toilets. After three years he had turned them into the company’s best performers.
Godfather’s Pizza CEO. Was asked by Pillsbury to take charge of their Godfather’s Pizza chain (which was on the verge of bankruptcy). He made it profitable in 14 months.
In 1988 he led a buyout of the Godfather’s Pizza chain from Pillsbury. He was now the owner of a restaurant chain. Again he reached the top of the ladder of another industry.
He was also chairman of the National Restaurant Association during this time. This is a group that interacts with government on behalf of the restaurant industry, and it gave him political experience from the non-politician side.
Having reached the top of a second industry, he changed careers again!
Adviser to the Federal Reserve System. Herman Cain went to work for the Federal Reserve Banking System advising them on how monetary policy changes would affect American businesses.
Chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. He worked his way up to the chairmanship of a regional Federal Reserve bank. This is only one step below the chairmanship of the entire Federal Reserve System (the top banking position in the country). This position allowed him to see how monetary policy is made from the inside, and understand the political forces that impact the monetary system.
After reaching the top of the banking industry, he changed careers for a fourth time!
Writer and public speaker. He then started to write and speak on leadership. His books include Speak as a Leader, CEO of Self, Leadership is Common Sense, and They Think You’re Stupid.
Radio Host. Around 2007—after a remarkable 40 year career—he started hosting a radio show on WSB in Atlanta (the largest talk radio station in the country).
He did all this starting from rock bottom (his father was a chauffeur and his mother was a maid). When you add up his accomplishments in his life—including reaching the top of three unrelated industries: information systems, business management, and banking—Herman Cain may have the most impressive resume of anyone that has run for the presidency in the last half century.
The above informtion was on Google.

October 3, 2011 6:56 PM

But he is still a champion of the Federal Reserve Board. He was the Chairman of the Board of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. He thinks we need the nanny FED to tell us how to spend our money, and how much we can have.
Thank you,
Robert Walker

October 8, 2011 1:44 PM
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