The Spectacle Blog

Judgment and Ideology Matter Far More Than ‘Executive Experience’

By on 8.17.11 | 5:11PM

Are members of the House of Representatives qualified to be President of the United States? Daniel Larison doesn't think so. Thus he judges both Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan as "unqualified" for the Oval Office.

And he adds:

Even if the party were inclined to accept a young House member, the electorate would not, because a large majority would find such a nominee to be ill-prepared for the position.

This has become a common refrain among elite pundits such as Larison and David Frum. They seem to think that, in order to be politically viable and credible, a presidential candidate must have "executive experience."

Of course, executive experience is always helpful. And it is true that, with the notable exception of Obama, most of our recent presidents have had executive experience. But that hasn't always been the case.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, John F. Kennedy, and Harry Truman all had little or no executive experience. Yet no one would say that their presidencies failed or fell short because of this. Their presidencies might have fallen short for other reasons, but not, it seems to me, because of a lack of executive experience.

And no, being vice president doesn't count. The vice president has historically been a figurehead who wields no real executive authority. (Dick Cheney might have been the lone exception to this rule.)

The Constitution, moreover, doesn't say anything about House members being "unqualified" to be president. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947, in fact, makes the Speaker of the House of Representatives third in line, behind the vice president, to become president in the event that the president or vice president is killed, dies, or becomes incapacitated.

The obsession with "executive experience" also stems from a misunderstanding of the presidency. The president is as much an administrator and delegator as he is an executive. He appoints a vast array of cabinet officers and officials who will do the actual executive work of government.

Now, this isn't always true. In defense and foreign policy especially, the president often must make executive command decisions that only he can make. But the success of these "command decisions" depends far more upon ideological bearings and good judgment than it does upon "executive experience."

All of which is to say that Congressmen Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan have every reason to run for president, and voters have every reason to take them seriously.

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