"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Presidential On-The-Job Training

After last night’s speech, one gets a sense that President Obama is desperate to prove to a skeptical public that he is in charge. However, the President fails to understand is that leadership is about more than just giving commands. Leadership requires respect, wisdom, patience, and above all, humility, but Obama never had to learn these hard-earned virtues prior to his inauguration.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."

Indeed, there are only six other presidents who, like Obama, were elected without any prior executive experience--defined here as either a former governor, military officer, or both:
  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • James Buchanan
  • William Howard Taft
  • Warren G. Harding
  • Herbert Hoover
All either lost re-election, or in the case of Harding, died in office. When given a choice, the people clearly decided that they didn't like the results of the first term enough to give these presidents a second chance. Given Obama’s falling poll numbers and unpopular policies, he will have a long and difficult re-election campaign ahead if he is to avoid a similar fate.

Many presidents failed to win re-election despite their experience in the military or the governor’s mansion. Recent one-term presidents like Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush all served with distinction in the military. Other one-termers like John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford B. Hayes were all governors. And then of course there is the oddity of Grover Cleveland, who was the only president to lose re-election, but then later come back to win a second non-consecutive term.

It is clear that previous executive experience--even in the presidency itself--does not guarantee re-election. Sometimes events are too powerful for even otherwise great and accomplished men to overcome. Patience and humility are essential virtues when confronted with the unexpected and the uncontrollable. Wise presidents know the limits of the office--and the limits of human nature.

Obama doesn’t have any of these advantages. History shows that lack of experience almost guarantees an unsuccessful presidency.  This is even worse for Obama, who is powerless in the face of continuing economic uncertainty.  As Vice President Biden once said--as he so often does--in an unguarded moment of unintentional honesty, "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."



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