“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” ~ Albert Camus
“I want a president with a record of public service, someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase fame and fortune for ourselves: we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed.” Michelle Obama
“Achievement is talent plus preparation.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Last week in How To Hire A President – Part 1, I compared hiring a U.S. President to hiring a CEO of a Fortune 500 or other company in the private sector. This week I’m proposing the idea of selecting Presidential candidates that have demonstrated their commitment to the Constitution and serving the American people by pursuing a career path in public service or a related field — such as law or the military — that could lead to the Presidency.
I offer this concept merely as a suggestion — or guide — in making the best choices regarding our candidates, nominees and eventual Presidents. While it’s likely not original, it’s an idea that I feel warrants close attention as we head into the 2020 Presidential Election.
Why Is Experience So Critical?
My four decades in corporate America have influenced my strong opinion that experience in government is critical to anyone who holds the Office of the Presidency. While any U.S. citizen that meets the basic criteria can aspire to be President, reaching that objective through a career track will produce someone who understands what it means to be a public servant. That individual is more likely to learn how to navigate the complexities and nuances of working in the field of government. And someone who has chosen to serve their country as a career differs from someone who runs for Office to seek power, conquer a new personal frontier or believes they know better than anyone else how to run the country. A lot of us probably fall into the latter category, but that doesn’t mean that we do!
Does that mean that those who pursue careers other than politics, law or the military should stay in their lanes and not pursue the dream of becoming President? Of course not; but I believe that it does mean a Presidential candidate must at least have demonstrable success in their respective fields and have acquired — or have an interest in acquiring or rounding out — training and experience in government and politics.
In any job, experience counts. And those who change careers are usually successful when they do it thoughtfully and with planning, and without expectation of immediately landing a CEO position in their new field or industry. Moreover, career-changers often have some experience to launch that new career, or they obtain the training they need to enter their new field, usually via an entry or mid-level position to gain experience, knowledge and exposure in order to advance to a top spot. Or they might transition from a corporate or professional position to an entrepreneurial endeavor. For example:
Vera Wang, the fashion designer started out as a figure skater. She changed careers by earning a journalism degree and landing a job at Vogue. After working her way up to senior fashion editor, she was in position to launch her own fashion career. She reportedly did so when she could not find the right dress for her own wedding and decided to design one. Well, sure; who wouldn’t?
Mick Jagger did not start out to become one of the biggest names in rock ‘n roll history. He first earned a business degree from the London School of Economics, and aspired to be a journalist. But from childhood Jagger had loved music. So while still at LSE he reconnected with former primary school classmate Keith Richards and together with Brian Jones formed a band that would become The Rolling Stones.
Sara Blakely tried several careers — law, entertainment and sales — before experimenting with footless pantyhose for her own use and coming up with a creation that slimmed but left the foot bare for sandals. That led to some serious research and networking to create her current shapewear empire, Spanx. After all, who has more experience with undergarments than women; and this woman saw an undergarment problem that she decided to solve.
Preparation for the Presidency
The amount of experience is also important. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote in his best-selling book, Outliers, “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have worked on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” (pp. 39-40.) That’s a boatload of hours, but Gladwell explains that the number can be achieved by practicing one’s profession, vocation or job 20 hours per week for 10 years, something many if not most professionals have achieved. Should we expect less from our Presidential candidates?
Serving as President is a big ask; but it doesn’t seem like such a big ask that someone who runs for President have as much experience to tackle that job as most Americans have in their particular fields. That experience could include volunteer service in the public sector, serving on the town board, or running for local public office. Such experience can help to reveal whether an individual is cut out for the demands and responsibilities of the most challenging and powerful job on earth.
At the very least, I believe it is essential that anyone aspiring to be President knows the political landscape, how government operates, the composition of the three Branches of Government, a solid grasp of U.S. history and thorough understanding of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws. For example, should a Presidential candidate know the answers to the 100 questions on the U.S. Citizenship Test that an immigrant must know to become a naturalized citizen?
And for those who decide early to pursue a career in politics, what are the best majors? Well, I worked on a Congressional campaign with some outstanding college students who were pursuing majors in political science and public policy. These students were on educational roads to prepare themselves for influential jobs in government and possibly elected office, perhaps even the Presidency.
Career Paths of Past Presidents
On which career paths did the vast majority of our U.S. Presidents embark? Most either practiced or studied the law, which led to political careers. Most of our Presidents either served in the military, some had solid military backgrounds, careers or contributed extraordinary service (Washington, Taylor, Grant, Hoover, Eisenhower and Kennedy, for a few examples). Theodore Roosevelt had a mixed background of ranching, politics and the military. Andrew Johnson was a small businessman who became involved in local politics. A few Presidents were former teachers and a journalist who pursued politics. Ronald Reagan was an actor before he entered politics. They all had some level of political experience before they ran for President.
In the 2016 election there was a lot of talk about how the current President’s business background was a good credential for the Presidency because he had the experience that could best manage the U.S. economy. Indeed, the candidate himself boasted about how well he has handled his business by using tax loopholes and other devices to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. He said, “That makes me smart.”
While the jury is out on businessman President Donald Trump’s controversial economy, the majority of the handful of Presidents that were primarily businessmen oversaw some of the worst economies in U.S. history. Only Harry Truman (1945-1953) enjoyed a thriving economy on his watch and introduced the U.S. as a world economic power. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) could not prevent the Stock Market Crash and launching of the Great Depression. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) could not get crippling inflation under control or fix the slow economic growth. George H.W. Bush (1989-1992) oversaw a recession. George W. Bush (2001-2008) at the end of two terms left us the parting gift of the Great Recession of 2007/2008.
Two major differences between our current businessman President and past businessman Presidents are: (1) previous Presidents had varying levels of experience in the military service and in the public sector and (2) their business and military experience led them into local politics that provided a path to the Presidency. By the time they arrived at the Oval Office, they had some government experience to prepare them for this daunting job.
New Requirements for Vetting a President
Expecting our Presidential candidates to have some education and experience in government is not — and probably should not be — a legal or Constitutional requirement. As a nation that is self-governed, the electorate must take some responsibility for carefully and sensibly assessing Presidential candidates, and looking for that experience.
- Birth certificate
- Voter registration card, driver’s license and other documentation to establish U.S. residency
- Tax returns for immediate past 10 years and any other financial records deemed relevant
- Three references from established officials in government: two professional, one character
- Deep criminal background check
- Deep social media check (activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Physical exam ( preferably by a neutral government doctor at Walter Reed)
This is a basic list to which nearly every American has been subject in some form when applying for jobs at various levels, especially in certain industries, including government service. And with recent lessons learned, it’s time to impose a tighter process.
Such additional requirements will also establish the candidate’s appropriateness for the job in many other categories, including the Three E’s. They will reveal problems that can provide candidates with an opportunity to remedy — or eliminate them from the running.
Once this foundation has been established, voters can be assured that they are assessing candidates that have undergone a reasonably thorough vetting. It’s important to apply these standards to candidates, because as we know it’s difficult to reverse things once a candidate becomes a Party’s nominee or is elected to the Presidency. Such standards will attract high quality and serious candidates and eliminate the worry of the unknown.
“We the People” Comprise The Shareholders of America
The Declaration of Independence says, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Those are powerful words that grant great authority to citizens of the United States.
Likewise, the first words of the Constitution of the United States are “We the People…” And one of the most famous speeches by one of our greatest Presidents includes the words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Thus, it’s pretty clear that you and I, along with our nearly 330 million fellow Americans, are in charge of the government.
Thus, we are, effectively, the Shareholders of America with the power to vote in and out the Board of Directors (Congress) and the CEO (President). And with those hefty tools called freedom of speech and public opinion, we can influence policies and legislation. But with that empowerment comes great responsibility, and obligates Americans of a legal age to become involved with government and ensure that we elect the right people to represent us, especially our President.
Everything expressed in this post simply is a collection of ideas. But ideas are what prompt legislation and Constitutional Amendments. I believe that when every American is involved with their government it works better for all. It is when we are not involved or not paying attention that bad things can happen.
For readers who are Shareholders of America and wish to express to their elected officials their ideas, opinions and desires on a better way to hire a President — or anything else — contact your Senators and Representatives.
This year and this election promise to be a watershed. We need to do our in-depth research and insist on knowing everything possible about the candidates — their resumes, reputations and character as well as their positions and proposals — so we can make the best choice for the next Presidential hire.
Until next time,