The Credibility Canard

Last weekend’s announcement by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that he would not reprise his unexpectedly strong 2008 showing and seek the GOP nomination in 2012 was greeted by an all-too-expected reaction from the mainstream media. ABC News touted an Associated Press analysis concluding that the decision “further muddies the field for a worthy challenger to President Barack Obama.”

A worthy challenger? Funny, but I can’t seem to recall any in the press judging a certain first-term junior senator from Illinois who had never sponsored a bill or chaired a subcommittee hearing, never run a business, and never held a private sector job as worthy to seek the presidency.  No, that campaign was about change.  Credibility came second.

Now that the neophyte president is the power, thanks in large measure to the unquestioning, fawning media coverage of that campaign, voters are told that the Republicans’ credibility -- indeed their worthiness -- is key. In reality, it’s a crock. Experience only counts when Democratic presidents are in trouble.

What makes a candidate worthy to run for president? Executive experience? Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty will each still have more executive experience than President Obama even after his first term ends. Pawlenty is the former two-term governor of Minnesota and Romney served a full term as Massachusetts governor. Throw in a possible bid by current two-term Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and it begins to look like it is the president’s team, not the Republican field, which will have to justify its presence in the race.

Many see business experience as a prerequisite for a presidential candidate, a qualification made all the more pressing by the present state of the economy. Here again the Republican field trounces Obama. Romney’s experience managing Bain Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country, puts him far and above the president in business acumen. Herman Cain, the conservative-populist radio show host, trumps them both. Cain worked his way up the ladder in two of America’s largest companies, Coca-Cola and Pillsbury, eventually becoming the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, then buying the subsidiary from Pillsbury and running it himself for eight years. Cain was also a director and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, itself a position that gives him far more insight and understanding of the overall economy than any community organizing the president may have done.

How about legislative experience? Some say legislators don’t make great executives, as the president himself is currently proving. But spending time in Congress does expose candidates to a broad range of issues and policy choices. President Obama can claim three terms in the Illinois state Senate and two-thirds of a U.S. Senate term, but he still falls well short of former Senator Rick Santorum’s sixteen years as a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, with two terms each in the House and Senate. Former Speaker of the House New Gingrich served 20 years as a Georgia congressman, although his recent troubles suggest that may be the closest he ever gets to the White House. From a pure longevity standpoint, Ron Paul’s 32 years in the House bests them all.

It is evident that on every level of experience and preparation for the presidency, the current early crop of Republican challengers each individually has far more experience than President Obama could have dreamed to possess when he announced his candidacy four years ago. In fact, the only experience Obama can claim that his competitors cannot is in actually being president. Given his record and the mood of the electorate, however, that particular qualification is not likely to be much of an advantage next year.

It is for this very reason that media poobahs are busily pooh-poohing the Republican field. Of course, no Republican could ever hope to be media-certified as worthy to challenge a sitting Democratic president. That the scrutiny has started this early is a good measure of just how much trouble those poobahs think Obama’s nascent reelection campaign is in.