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The Next President

August 9th, 2011 - 8:41 am

I don’t have a candidate yet, but I do have some traditional requirements.  Most of the time, we elect either state governors or generals who have won wars.  There are good and obvious reasons: We want leaders who have executive experience making difficult decisions, whether on the political or military battlefield, leaders who know how to manage a large and complex enterprise, leaders who have dealt with internal and external criticism, and who have kept together sometimes-fractious teams of advisers, colleagues and subordinates. That’s the overall requirement for me.

Second:  I don’t want someone from business who has no experience in politics or the military;  the worlds are too different, and we don’t have time for the next president to learn the basic rules.

Third:  I don’t want a legislator whose career has been almost exclusively in politics. Congressmen and senators only give speeches. If the speech doesn’t work out too well, they give a different one next time, they rarely pay a meaningful price for getting it wrong. And they don’t have management experience, they’ve never been tested as leaders. The only people they manage are personal (or sometimes committee) staffers, who rarely have the confidence to criticize the boss. But I think  it’s important that our leaders have a good record recruiting and keeping talented staffers. I would have doubts about a candidate whose staff has changed early and often.

Just look at the last two presidents we elevated from the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” the United States Senate:  John F. Kennedy and Barack H. Obama.  Disasters. And Kennedy had some military experience, even. It wasn’t nearly enough. You might be tempted to cite Harry Truman as a case in counterpoint, but he was Veep for a while…

Fourth: I have a strong preference for someone who has failed, learned from failure, and overcome it. One of my heroes is Thomas Edison, whose search for a workable filament for the first electric light bulb produced thousands of failures. He delighted in them, learning from each one. We are fallible; our presidents are going to make mistakes. I want a president who knows that going in, and who is quick to spot his blunder and will look for a better way.

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