I find it interesting and completely irrelevant that, in the Democratic primary race, Hilary Clinton keeps touting her “experience.”
Now, I do not agree with those who would dismiss her experience as First Lady as irrelevant. Whatever the dynamics of the Clintons’ relationship, it is clear that Hilary Clinton was no Dolley Madison, whose reputation was made on White House parties and dinners.
And before the White House years, she was a successful lawyer, who graduated in the era when, if a woman applied for work at a law firm, she was offered a job as a secretary, whether or not she had a law degree.
“Experience,” in this context, of course, means “managerial experience in government,” as, opposed, to say, experience in leadership, experience in administration, or experience in management.
A critical analysis of American history indicates that experience in government is, at best, an “independent variable” and, at worst, completely irrelevant to performance in the office of President.
In other words, job experience does not make a president. Leadership, integrity, and foresight make a president.
And those qualities are forged by life, not by a job history.
(It’s a long windy post. I suggest you just agree with me, but, if you wish, you can read on.)
I will consider our greatest presidents. They are, as far as I am concerned,
- George Washington
- Thomas Jefferson
- Abraham Lincoln
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Franklin Roosevelt
(No, Ronald Reagan does not make the list. He did far more damage than good, despite Neocon myth-making.)
George Washington had little experience in government. Before the Revolutionary War, he was a successful planter and a so-so officer in the Virginia Militia. He servered in the Colonial Virginia House of Burgesses (the legislature), but had not govermental managerial experience.
During the Revolutionary War, he managed to win two battles: The Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Yorktown. And he would not have won the Battle of Yorktown without the presence of the French fleet in the York River, which cut off the British from any retreat, and a large contingent of French troops.
(He was, however, a wise enough commander to realize that the American revolutionary troops did not have the resources to beat the British is the traditional (at that time) style of pitched battle of massed troops on an open battlefield. He chose, instead, to wage a war of insurgency.)
(Yeah, there were other victories on the battlefield for the Revolutionary army: Saratoga, Cowpens–which was sort of the basis for the movie, The Patriot–and Kings Mountain–but Washington wasn’t involved in them).
He could have been King–or President for Life. And he turned it down. Because, like the rest of the Founders, he feared most that this country would fall into the hands of despots, and he wanted to set the againsts despotism.
Conclusion: Managerial experience in government: minimal.
Thomas Jefferson similarly had limited experience in government.
Like Washington, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and also served as Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War. He also served in the First Continental Congress for two years, but, frankly, it had little or no purpose except to try to fund the Continental Army.
Yes, he had served as ambassador to France, taking him away from the nation during the early years of the Revolutionary War, and he served as Vice President under John Adams. He served as Secretary of State for a while under George Washington, but had little or no influence; Alexander Hamilton was in ascendancy.
He was Vice President under John Adams. At that time, the Vice President was the person who came in second in the presidential election. As Jefferson and Adams had opposed each other for the presidency, Jefferson had almost no influence or roll in the government. (As part of that election, the Federalist Party enacted the spiritual ancestor of the “Protect America Act.”
As President, he doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase, avoided War with Britain (the War finally came in 1812), and engineered the demise of the Federalist Party.
It can easily be argued that his greatest contributions were as a political thinker and as leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, rather than as an elected leader.
Conclusion: Managerial Experience in Government almost non-existent.
Abraham Lincoln was a corporate lawyer. In those days, that meant he was a lawyer for the railroads, the dominant corporations of their time. He served in the state legislature for eight years–a part time post–while he pursued his legal career.
He also served as a Captain–an elected post–of the militia in the Black Hawk War. He served for 90 days and saw no action.
Many consider him to have been the best president in the history of the United States.
Conclusion: Managerial Experience in Goverment: Minimal.
Theodore Roosevelt served a term in the New York State legisture. Later, he ran for governor of New York and lost. He subsequently served on the United States Civil Service Commission, the Board of New York City Police Commissioners, and other boards and commissions, as well as UnderSecretary of the Navy.
He was elected Vice President to President McKinley in 1900 and because president when McKinley was assassinated.
Conclusion: Managerial Experience in Government: High, but complete irrelevant to his election.
Franklin Roosevelt served as a Senator in the New York State Legisture for five years. Later, he served as Assistance Secretary of the Navy during World War I and, a decade later, as governor of New York.
Elected president in 1932, he led the nation through the Great Depression and, because of his commitment to helping persons who were starving and out of work, was hated by Republicans and termed a “traitor to his class.”
Conclusion: Managerial Experience in Government: Moderate.