Saturday, March 1, 2008

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What's the best experience to be president?

That's the topic of my latest commentary for NPR's Marketplace. Here's how it closes:

As a management question, the problem with being the president is that one cannot anticipate what important issues will arise in the future. No one thought terrorism would be the paramount foreign policy problem during the 2000 campaign. I guarantee you there are issues that will not be talked about during this election year, but will dominate the presidency in 2009 and beyond.

Perhaps the best experience to be president, then, is the ability to successfully cope with the uncertain and the unknown. Of course, some managerial experts would not call that "experience." They would call it "judgment."

Go check it out!

UPDATE: I do find this post from the Hotline to be particularly interrstin on this point:

Responding to the release of HRC's new TX TV ad, which asserts in no subtle terms that only she has the experience to deal with a major world crisis, and, relatedly, to keep your children safe, Slate's John Dickerson asked the obvious question:

"What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" he said.

Silence on the call. You could've knit a sweater in the time it took the usually verbose team of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein, Clinton's national security director, to find a cogent answer.

posted by Dan on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM


Probably the reason Bush's experience was so misjudged.

posted by: Lord on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

You Have a spelling error in the headline. Feel free to delete this comment.

posted by: Jim Lebeau on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

You Have a spelling error in the headline. Feel free to delete this comment.

posted by: Jim Lebeau on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]


I think that experience is still the more important characteristic, because judgment comes from experience.

I understand your point that the best experience to be had as president is "the ability to successfully cope with the unknown," or "judgment." But, if judgment doesn't come from experience, then it comes from a deep conviction in something else (i.e. faith in a greater power) and the person who displays judgment is the one who acts most closely to how he/she interprets the guidance of the greater power. If there is a third way to gain judgment, perhaps another commenter can make an argument.

So, if judgment (the kind that does not come from a conviction in an outside 'guiding principle'), then judgment still comes from experience. The question then, is, what is the type of experience that one needs?

It could be:
1) Managerial experience. The ability to run an organization/leadership or management experience/understanding how to work with limited resources/etc. I would say that this type of experience includes the ability listen to one's advisers, think creatively, and be able to use the full human resources available (i.e., listening to all points of view and being able to compare them to each other).
2) Policy experience. The ability to know the ins and outs of a particular policy (McCain arguably has the most foreign policy experience, Clinton maybe has the health care experience, etc.--however, it does not mean that a voter supports the person's opinions on the policy).
3) Diplomatic experience. I use diplomatic in a very broad way, meaning "the ability to communicate , influence, or build support" with people from both the domestic constituency, as well as international leaders and/or general populations. This includes the ability understand one's own culture and how it informs one's way of thinking, as well as understanding the nuances of other cultures.

There might be other kinds of experience, but these three seem most appropriate for a president. And because judgment is gained over time and experience (I can't think of how it is not, unless it is just luck or if a person completely trusts someone else, like a close adviser, who does have experience), then experience is the more important characteristic.


posted by: Josh Jones on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

Well, Time's also onto the experience thing: "Does Experience Matter in a President?",8599,1717926,00.html

I guess you've got a true pundit's eye for the hot topic of the week!!

posted by: Americaneocon on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

The quality most needed in a President is the ability to see the forest as well as the trees. The great danger is leadership that tries to optimize the details of a policy or strategy that is flawed in a deeper sense. The task of a President is to set or change an overall direction and then make sure that results follow in a timely manner.

posted by: David Billington on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

Pigmentation and gender are far more important than experience or judgment and most Americans agree with me on that.

posted by: Joseph Sixpack on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

I agree with your assessment of what we need in a President, but not in your claim that what you're describing constitutes "judgment." (There is such a thing as bad judgment, you know.)

I think what you're describing is "discernment" -the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, in this case, how the US ought to respond to any of a myriad of possible issues and threats in the future.

posted by: Diodotus on 03.01.08 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

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