The PJ Tatler

Who's Qualified To Be President Anyway?

Wanted: Experienced executive to directly manage continental scale organization with very significant global assets ranging from law enforcement to scientific research to organizational defense. Executive must demonstrate competence in all of the following areas: Faithfully abide by and execute the organization’s laws; hire and when needed fire department managers; manage and grow organization’s standing against competitors worldwide, some of which foster longstanding policies of intent to destroy our organization; calibrate economic policy to foster growth in industry not directly controlled by organization; defend organization from all enemies, foreign and domestic; calibrate needs of the economy with stewardship of the environment; manage international relationships, which range from client states to strong allies to neutrals to mortal enemies, and some who pretend to be one but may actually be another; manage domestic relationships with members of executive’s allied club while tending to relationship with executive’s club’s opposite; communicate to the organization’s owners, of which there are approximately 307 million, in a manner that fosters optimism, pride, and belief in the organization’s long-term health and stability. And other duties as assigned, and as they arise, which often happens at 3 am and other inconvenient times not of the executive’s choosing. Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Location: While the executive will reside at quarters furnished by the organization in our capital, the responsibilities of the job will travel with the successful applicant for as long as he or she remains in the job. Salary: $400,000 annually, with a generous benefits and retirement package.

So, who wants the job? Or more importantly, who is qualified for it?

Let’s review a few resumes from a slate of applicants currently seeking the job.

Applicant One: Logical and organized, founder and former executive of investment capital group that boasted a 70% success rate. Stepped into crisis at Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and turned what appeared to be a sure disaster into a great success. Governed 14th most populous state, with decidedly mixed results: Raised taxes, which tends to harm the economy, and instituted a health care program that mandates individuals purchase insurance. Program was intended to lower health insurance costs, but has not achieved that goal as costs have continued to increase. Program also infringes on individual liberties, a violation of one of the applicant’s primary duties. Appointed questionable figures to positions of power. Strong communication skills, no matter which side of a question he happens to weigh in on strongly at the moment.

Based on the above, applicant is Qualified. But will bear monitoring if placed in the job, as he may take the organization in unexpected directions.

Applicant Two: Currently elected to Congress. Has two points on executive experience, but not of large organizations. Has run successful family medical practice. Has also published low circulation newsletter that he now claims he did not manage closely despite the fact that it was published under his name and he controlled all staffing. That claim may be related to the fact that said newsletter engaged in racist rhetoric and conspiracy theories. High voiced but passionate, and inspires a passionate following. Questionable understanding of organization’s recent history.

Based on the above, applicant is Not Qualified due to lack of experience managing large organizations, and suspect judgement in other areas.

Applicant Three: Former congressman and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Led his party to capture Congress for the first time in a generation, then led successful effort to balance budget and reform welfare. Has founded and managed several Washington-based think-tanks, some of which proffered policies he now disowns. Served as “historian” to troubled housing lender. Troubled personal life, appears in job interview to be mercurial in temperament.

Based on the above, applicant is Qualified, but will need to be watched carefully in the job. May not play well with others.

Applicant Four: Former two-term governor of medium sized state. Successful business leader. Former ambassador to China. Despite these qualifications, appears more focused on being “cool” and “hip” and insulting the voters than running a campaign focused on his accomplishments and plans. Fair communications skills, but questionable judgement on priorities.

Based on the above, applicant meets the minimum standards of executive experience and is therefore Qualified. But a little odd, and may be applying for the job just to fill up his free time.

Applicant Five: Successful at several levels of statewide government including being re-elected governor of the second-largest state. Applicant is that state’s longest serving governor in its history. Tenure has seen job growth that dwarfs most other states, over a long period of time. Has helped marginalize his party’s foes at the state level, to the point that they have become all but irrelevant. Has also presided over efforts to boost domestic energy development and, in one of the more innovative efforts in the nation, has pushed universities to bring costs back in line with economic reality. Is the only governor in the nation to push such a plan. Though applicant has the strongest resume of the field, has struggled in communications and will need to improve to meet other less concrete demands of the job.

Based on the above, applicant is Qualified. Needs to work on communications; may have strongest resume, but has also had the weakest interview so far, and both are important.

Applicant Six: Former senator and congressman who was key part of Applicant Three’s successful efforts. Showed questionable judgement in endorsing fellow team member who later switched teams. Was handily defeated last time he applied for related job by weak competitor. Speaks well and is a strong family man, but has no significant executive experience so despite evidence of strength, resume is a little thin.

Based on the above, applicant is Not Yet Qualified. A stint managing a successful large business or governing a state would change that. Simply winning an election would help.

Of course, all of the above has subjective elements. I chose which qualities I was looking for and judged accordingly. Others have different views.

We do need to be careful at this stage of the primary, in rendering final verdicts on qualifications based on this or that temporary campaign tactic. In the latest twist in the process to fill the job, Applicant One’s rivals are attacking him as a “vulture capitalist.” They are wrong about that, and should stand down. Applicant One was also wrong when he attacked Applicant Five from the left on Social Security. Having engaged in such an attack before, he is hardly in a position to demand deference from others now. Applicant Three promised a sunny campaign, but has gone negative in response to Applicant One’s negative attacks on him. Again, Applicant One is in no position to demand deference. Applicant One has in fact been the instigator of several disputes, though he has shrewdly left few fingerprints. The competition for this job is fierce, as it should be, and unfortunately can bring out the worst in very competitive applicants.

In the Republican primary, it’s not all that unusual, unfortunately, for rivals to attack each other from positions that end up being counterproductive. And it’s not all that uncommon for Democrats to attack their rivals from the right. George H. W. Bush dubbed Ronald Reagan’s supply side economics “voodoo economics” before becoming Reagan’s own vice president and then president. Al Gore attacked Michael Dukakis as being weak on crime, via the infamous Willie Horton ad (when Bush used the same story, Democrats smeared him for it). Barack Obama hit Hillary Clinton from the right, and she hit him back from the right. And they hit each other from the left too. Obama even played the race card on Clinton, before naming her his secretary of State.

All of these tactical attacks we’re seeing now, we’ve seen before. It’s not new. They’re distasteful, but they won’t go away because we will them to. To an extent, the current “vulture capitalist” attacks on Romney, while ridiculous, could inoculate him from similar attacks by the Democrats if he is the nominee. They certainly seem to be helping him now, and they’ll be old news later. None of that are reasons to continue the attacks. They betray a disturbing lack of principle in those launching them.

Here are the main reasons I urge caution. One, the current occupant of the job was clearly not qualified when he got it, but ran a great campaign to get it, and his having been in it renders him qualified now to some extent. He’s lousy at it, of course, and right now his periodic performance review reflects that. Two, it’s possible that more than one of the current field of applicants will end up on the ticket to replace the current occupant.