Friday, March 25, 2011

A Short Way To The Top

Obama has ruined it for us all.

Thanks to his famously short tenure in government before becoming president--four years at the federal level, two of which were effectively spent running for president--anyone with a picture on the landing page of everywhere from CNN to the Bozeman Leader-Tribune thinks they have a shot at winning the White House. Michelle Bachmann, a no-name representative from Minnesota, and Rand Paul, who has barely moved into his Senate office not even three months ago, are "exploring possibilities," which are code words for "Let's see how much money I get first." No doubt Alan Grayson is fiddling with the paperwork down in Florida.

Of course, this isn't Obama's fault. Our post-war experience has been with electing tenured and seasoned politicians. (Pre-war presidents are a different story, since back then killing Indians was an acceptable substitute for "executive experience.") This isn't only because a long-lasting politician has experience, but that they also have the clout, connections, and sources of fundraising that newcomers do not have access to. However, it's a different political world today. I don't think modern politicians have quite grasped how to exploit it, but things such as social media and instant news feeds have lowered the barriers to entry for running for president. Obama did this in a partial way, but he clearly had an entire political infrastructure to work with even before the primaries. At some point, nominees won't necessarily have to be the old guards and familiar faces.

Whether this will be good for democracy or not, I don't know. In some ways, the presidency is too important to leave to newbies. The initial legislative fiascoes of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama point to individuals who lack the experience for political negotiation on a federal level. Then again, look at that list: one was defeated, one served two terms, and one is pending. So simply being inexperienced doesn't necessarily mean a presidency will end in failure; it will require an ability to quickly learn and adapt. There's also something to be said about bringing new and fresh faces into the process; then again, that's what Congress is for, not the presidency. The House and Senate are custom-built for long, drawn-out negotiations where brash young politicos can make their mark, while the Presidency requires quick-thinking decisions that require years of experience and an overall sense of how each pertinent issue relates to other issues. The former positions are perfect for fresh faces to make their mark and specialize, while the Presidency is not the sort of place to throw dice too often.

Still, everyone knows that individuals running for president aren't always aiming just for the presidency. There are book tours, radio shows, and--in the case of Dennis Kucinich--spouses to be found.

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