Saturday, August 9, 2008

Does It Matter If You're Inexperienced And The President?

I'm actually not being snarky with the title. I don't know enough about Presidential history to examine many terms with respect to how inexperience mattered. On the one hand, George Washington had no experience. Nobody did, at the time. And George was a freakin' surveyor! (Besides the whole General thing.) George was probably the greatest President evah!

Meanwhile, JFK's inexperience was certainly disastrous. Walls, missiles, pissing the CIA off....

Washington, of course, had command experience. So did JFK, though obviously not as extensive.

So, does it matter if you're "inexperienced" when you're President? Of course, no one but someone who's sat in the chair is truly experienced. But the skills we often look for--executive experience, like governorships--are really the voter's way of reassuring ourselves that we're making the right choice.

Carter is probably the classic example of the guy with executive experience who yet looked to everyone else to make decisions. Contrast with a guy like Clinton: He was sensitive to the political winds but always came off as the guy in charge.

What makes a competent (not necessarily good) President: 1) Ability to make a decision; 2) Ability to make the decision stick. Forget about experience or intelligence or knowledge of the subject matter. If you can't make a decision and make it stick, you can't be a competent leader.

People who can do that are not necessarily people who have professional executive experience. It's possible to live a life of decisive action. Good mothers do this, for example. (Although mothering is really executive experience, it's not usually recognized as such.)

There are many complementary skills in making a decision stick. Bush 43 was in danger of losing the Iraq war to public opinion, for example, showing a poor skill in handling the press or doing end runs around them--something Reagan managed when there was little in the way of options to the liberal media. Working with the other side, politically, can help. And of course, competent execution makes decisions harder to attack once made.

Making a decision consists of two important parts: Primary is, you know, making the decision. Secondary to that is making a good decision. And correctness is secondary, generally: A bad decision is very often better than no decision. 9/11, for example, can be seen as a natural consequence of failing to make a decision for over twenty years about radical Islam.

Alternatively, W could've left Saddam in Baghdad, and hundreds thousands more would be dead, while Saddam raked in the profits from $115 per barrell oil. Alt history is more Troop's thing than mine, but the alternative to the Civil War seems to me to have been having an antagonistic country directly on our southern border, fighting over territory and slavery.

And so on.

Making a decision requires a grasp of the choices and a way to balance them against each other. In other words, if your intel is undermined, and you can't figure out what data to trust, you can't make a decision. If your data is bad--and especially if you don't know it's bad--you can make the wrong decision.

Another element is helpful, especially if you're President: Arrogance. You have to believe that you're making the best decision that a person could make. You are the decider. And people are going to die--and lives are going to be affected in myriad ways you can't see--based on what you decide.

Which brings us to another element that helps: An ethical and moral base. You're dealing with the fate of the free world. No matter what you choose, some people are going to suffer. You need to do the right thing, and you need to be confident enough in your ethical and moral base that when you screw up--because you are going to screw up--that you don't let it paralyze you.

Carter, for some reason--perhaps because he wasn't comfortable with the responsibility--seemed paralyzed and unable to lead so much as cajole. Nixon, for another reason--being dirty, dirty, dirty over things that make Watergate the triviality it was--had to step down after any pretense of having an ethical and moral base was destroyed.

John McCain, I think, felt his ethical and moral base undermined by the Keating 5 scandal, but he has the arrogance to believe that he's right--pretty much all the time--which resulted in him changing the law with the McCain-Feingold abomination. He's survived a long time, despite provoking his own party, which again plays heavily into the aroogance thing: He's so sure he's right, he's just not a team player. This may affect his ability to make decisions stick--lack of support--as well as to make correct decisions (if lack of support also translates to bad intel).

Barack Obama, on the other hand, seems to avoid making decisions. He takes stands (which is Carter-esque), less so actual action. However, if he got into office, he'd be at the top, and we might get to see what he's really made of when not campaigning. I don't get enough of a read off the guy to tell. We mostly get cartoonish views of both candidates, when we get them at all.

What I'm getting at, though, is that his "inexperience" isn't really proof of much. If he weren't a machine politician (and a Chicago machine politician at that!) I could vote for him on the basis of him being an outsider.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.