History shows otherwise
Jordan Ryan | Monday, February 1, 2016
The 2016 presidential field boasts a range of well qualified candidates from all walks of life: a neurosurgeon, a former senator/first lady/Secretary of State, a business executive, former governors, a billionaire and several members of the Senate, just to name a few. Many Americans seem to want a fresh face and perspective in Washington, free of the perceived baggage and tarnish of Capitol Hill. But are people who have no political experience really better equipped to instantaneously assume the most important political position in the world? Experience in state government or on Capitol Hill may be a prerequisite to assuming the office of President.
Candidates including Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina argue that their extensive business experience and records of accomplishments demonstrate how prepared they are to balance the budget and grow the economy. But history shows otherwise. According to Robert McElvaine of the Washington Post, “the nation’s GDP has grown more than 45 times faster under presidents with little or no business experience than it has under presidents with successful business careers.”
This reality reflects the fact that the President does not have as much control over the fate of the economy as we might think. Independent economic events, unrelated Congressional action, tax and regulatory activity and decisions made by the Federal Reserve are among the primary economic change agents. The President may have little or no control over these economic influencers. For example, Herbert Hoover was a prominent international businessman who achieved tremendous personal wealth and won the White House in 1928 with promises of economic prosperity. Unfortunately, the stock market collapsed only months after Hoover took office, doomed the agenda of this DC outsider and turned him into a one-term President. The simple reality is that our government does not run like a business, and it certainly can’t be controlled like any entity which these executives are accustomed to running.
On the other hand, “career politicians” carry baggage that is turning off American voters. They often find themselves subject to the influence of major donors or political allies, influences which may not be as significant for Washington outsiders. For example, it’s no secret that Presidents often choose ambassadors to foreign nations or other top posts as rewards to campaign contributors. Unfortunately though, we may have to accept the price of politics. DC is often a world where contacts and political IOUs are the major currency. Is this something that can be changed anytime soon? Most likely not.
The biggest complaint which the presidential primary race has exposed is that politicians don’t understand what its like to be a working class American. Many candidates and office holders are part of what is perceived as the political elite. They’re seen as having worked primarily for the government for most of their lives. Many are perceived rightly or wrongly as being part of an insulated bureaucracy for so long that they are incapable of relating to those working in the private sector. Voters are asking how their officials are supposed to represent those whose lives they can’t understand?
The President’s concerns obviously include issues larger than those which dictate our daily lives. I would argue that we need a President who can look beyond the weeds that cultivate our trees in order to create a thriving forest. Consequently, we need a President who is well versed in the domestic political process, who can stand up to aggressive foreign nations, and who can negotiate and enforce fair deals with our international trading partners. We need someone who can translate our needs and ambitions into a realistic policy and legislative agenda and break through the DC gridlock to implement those priorities. It is difficult to argue how a person with this requisite skill set could be a Washington outsider.
Of our 44 Presidents, 16 are former Senators, 19 are former House Members and 17 are former governors. Obviously, the electorate values political experience when choosing a President, and they do so for good reason. Anyone who aspires to our nation’s highest office must understand the fourth dimension that is the Presidency. You have to understand the system in order to determine how to improve it.
The Presidency does not provide a margin for error necessary for on the job experience. While many of our current candidates have incredible private sector credentials and the best of intentions, the White House is no place for a novice. If these politically inexperienced presidential aspirants truly are committed to public service, let them gain an understanding of the system by spending time in Congress or as a state governor. Let’s instead move forward with a President who possesses the appropriate skill set to get the job done.
Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies political science and peace studies along with minors in Constitutional studies and business economics. She can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.