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What Sort of Experience is Needed to be a Good President?

Mar 4, 2008
Is there any specific experience that can best prepare an individual to be the President of the United States? Service in the military? Running a business? Governing a state? Or will the much maligned legislative experience suffice? How much of the right sort of experience is enough? Consider the resumes of two of our best presidents.

Consider first Mr. Lincoln. When Lincoln came to office he had served a number of terms in the Illinois state legislature, only one term in the House of Representatives, had limited military service, and his sole executive experience was as postmaster of a small rural hamlet. Lincoln's resume has to be, if not the thinnest of anyone elected to the Presidency, one of the thinnest.

Consider next Mr. Truman. A failed businessman, a county commissioner then a senator for less than two terms before becoming vice president and ascending to the Presidency by virtue of Mr. Roosevelt's death. His military career, while exemplary, was also short. Any executive experience? To the extent that you can call the Vice Presidency an executive position, he had about all of a couple of months.

Truman and Lincoln are on most historians' short list of great chief executives. And yet two thinner resumes would be hard to find. So should the electorate always reject the candidate with less experience in favor of the one with more experience? Using this criterion Douglas should have been selected over Lincoln and Roosevelt should have kept Henry Wallace as Vice President. Fortunately in both these cases the more experienced candidate did not prevail.

Bill Clinton said earlier in this primary season that electing Barrack Obama would be rolling the dice, taking a gamble with our future. Given the lack luster performance of many of out better qualified former presidents, this is apparently precisely what many of us our willing to do. Jimmy Carter had a splendid resume: a successful farmer, a governor and a naval officer. On the republican side Herbert Hoover also had a good resume: an accomplished mining engineer, a successful administrator of a massive food relief program in Europe and a cabinet officer. Both Hoover and Carter have become, perhaps unfairly, the poster children of failed presidencies.

Voters know that the quality of leadership is often completely unrelated to the extent of experience. Voters are gravitating to Mr. Obama, despite his inexperience, because they sense that he has the leadership skills that other more experienced candidates lack. Our history has given us at least two good "precedents" for making just such a choice.
About the Author
Michael Sack Elmaleh is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Valuation Analyst. His book, "Financial Accounting: A Mercifully Brief Introduction", has received wide critical acclaim. He has nearly 30 years of accounting and 10 years of teaching experience.His web site is understand-accounting.net
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