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executive, experience, exception

So, YHB was invited by our Gracious Host to discuss Barack Obama’s announcement speech, so I will, and I’m working on that. But as I started looking around, I was thinking, when was the last time we elected a President that had no real executive branch experience? Our Only President was a Governor, and Our Previous President was a Governor, and the President Before That had been Vice-President. That takes us back to Ronald Reagan, who had been a Governor, and Jimmy Carter, who had been a governor. Richard Nixon was Vice-President, as was Lyndon Johnson, if you can even count him. So we’re back to John F. Kennedy, who of course was the last President to be elected as a sitting Senator as well, if that counts for anything (RMN, LBJ and GHWB had been Senators as well, b.v.p.). Before that, we had a General, which is wacky, and before that, a vice-President, and before that a Governor, and before that—we’re talking about Herbert Hoover, by the way—a Secretary of Commerce. Seriously. Before him, a veep (and former Governor). And Warren Harding was the other sitting Senator to be elected President, having only been Lieutenant Governor. T. Woodrow Wilson was a Governor (and college president!). William Taft had been a judge (!!) and Governor-General of the Philippines, which has got to count, right? TR had been a Vice-President, and like Lyndon Johnson and Calvin Coolidge, wasn’t elected to the Presidency but re-elected, so you have to count that as executive experience. William McKinley was a Governor, and we’re back to 1896, so we’ve long passed anything remotely relevant, but just for fun, in 1892 we elected a former President, so how’s that for Executive experience?

So. The presidents without Executive experience were John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Warren G. Harding [and Herbert Hoover]. Now, the history of the American Presidency is a history of exceptions, rather than rules, so I’m not saying that it’s impossible or even unlikely that Our Next President will have no Executive branch experience. Our Next President will be an exception one way or another, I’m sure, even if it is another white guy. But there is a reason why we prefer our Presidents to have that Executive experience.

Who are the Democratic Candidates for President? Let’s start with the top tier in the polls: Barack Obama (serving his first term as Senator, having been a State Senator), Hilary Clinton (starting her second term as Senator, having never held any elective office of any kind previous to the US Senate, but having a kind of Executive Branch experience unavailable to previous generations of candidates), and John Edwards (a one-term Senator, having never held elective office previous to the US Senate, but having campaign experience on a national ticket). Who else? Joe Biden has been a distinguished Senator for six terms, with no Executive experience. Christopher Dodd has been an undistinguished Senator for five terms, with no Executive experience. Wesley Clark has never held elective office of any kind. Mike Gravel was a two-term Senator, with no Executive experience. Dennis Kucinich has been in the US House for ten years now, and was Mayor of Cleveland almost thirty years ago, but has never held any higher Executive office.

Which leaves us with Tom Vilsack, Governor of Iowa, and Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico. Oh, and one other possible candidate—he’s not actually running, of course, but for some odd reason, people keep mentioning his name—with experience in the Executive Branch. We’re not waiting for Mario anymore.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

[Edited after posting to correct two minor errors and to improve the title]


IIRC, GHWB was a Representative, not a Senator.

Well, crap. I was thinking of his father. Also, in the second paragraph, I left off Herbert Hoover as a non-Executive President-elect, although of course his experience feeding Europe is not altogether dissimilar from William Taft's experience governing the Philippines, or for that matter Dwight Eisenhower's as Supreme Commander of the invasion of Europe. I think College President, by the way, although a terrific thing to have on a candidate's resume, doesn't count in that way, particularly if it's a private college such as Princeton or Columbia. The point, though, is that President Hoover, President Harding, President Kennedy and President Eisenhower are the exceptions to the {Governor OR Vice-President} rule.


having a kind of Executive Branch experience unavailable to previous generations of candidates

:) Well put; made me laugh.

Since I'm lazy, I'll ask you this rather than looking it up myself: what about the current crop of Republican candidates?

what about the current crop of Republican candidates?
They're a bunch of losers, why do you ask?
OK, fine.
Not {Governor OR Vice-President}: Senator Brownback, Speaker Gingrich, Mayor Giuliani, Senator Hagel, Representative Hunter, Senator McCain, Representative Paul, Representative Tancredo.
Governors: Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Willard “Mitt” Romney, Tommy Thompson.
Vice-Presidents: None.



Okay, so I think that's kind of interesting: of the current top several candidates in both parties (and yeah, I know, we're still a year away from primaries), the only ones with governor-or-VP experience are Gore and Romney, neither of whom really count as frontrunners. (Gore is currently polling only a little behind Edwards.) So if nothing major changes in the next year and a half, then neither of the major-party candidates in the general election will have been governors or vice-presidents, which suggests that neither party will have a significant advantage over the other in that regard. (Unless being mayor of NYC is enough like being governor of a small urban state.)

Excet, of course, that if nothing major changes in the next year and a half, that in itself will be astonishing.

(And I suppose there's always the possibility of a candidate picking a VP with executive experience, but I don't know if that would help.)

NYC's population (8 million in the city proper) is larger than the total population of 41 states. California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas are the exceptions. Guiliani counts as having substantial executive experience in my book.

... and hence, I should get better at spelling Giuliani's name.

Certainly, as I mention above, voters have been willing to accept other qualifications in lieu of Governorship or Vice-Presidency. Certainly Rudolph William Louis "Rudy" Giuliani III has had more executive experience than President Eisenhower allowed Dick Nixon, in terms of actual governing.

As far as frontrunnerdom, I think that if Vice President Gore were to throw his hat into the proverbial, he would clearly be on a tier with Sens. Obama, Edwards and Clinton. I don't think that the Republican race has shaken out a top tier yet, but if I were pressed to name a three-person tier it would be Senator McCain, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney. I'd point out, though, that at more-or-less-this-point in the proceedings last go-round, I probably wouldn't have put Governor Dean in the top tier of Democrats, where he clearly wound up. We're a long way from Tipperary yet.

The saddest joke I know is about a little boy who finds a critter called a "rarey," which the boy adopts and raises. However, the rarey grows uncontrollably, and eventually threatens... something, I forget.

Let's say the Universal Fabric. I don't know. He's big. He eats a lot? The family's poor and can't support him? Not the point.

Anyway, the boy eventually takes the rarey to the Grand Canyon to push it off the edge, thus killing it and solving the Universal Fabric problem (or whatever), and the rarey looks down and says "it's a long way to tip a rarey."

I'm sorry, I can't go on.


See, in my version, there's a Rarey restaurant...


Ron Paul has national campaign experience, if you count running for President as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988, and I don't know why you would.

A rarey restaurant? Where they serve delectable rarey-flesh?

I'm buying!


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