- - Wednesday, May 6, 2015


The Republicans have an excess of riches for the 2016 campaign, diversity that the Democrats can only envy. But all riches do not have equal value. Experience in politics, the most valuable item on any chief executive officer’s resume, looks like an afterthought on certain resumes. Carly Fiorina probably wouldn’t have appointed someone with no business experience as her deputy at Hewlett-Packard. Ben Carson, the eminent neurosurgeon, would not have recruited a Starbucks barista as his chief surgical nurse.

Politics is different, of course, where personality, character and what President George H.W. Bush famously called “the vision thing,” can sometimes make up for inexperience and mastery of executive detail. “The vision thing” is crucial to the success of any president, and without it a president can be pushed about by every wind that blows. Vision is the anchor that every leader must have.

Only one of the six official candidates so far, Mike Huckabee, has the experience that a season presiding over a state house can confer. As governor of Arkansas, he had to deal with a legislature — which is not Congress, to be sure, but a state legislature has its share of ambitious cranks and eccentrics eager to put obstacles in the way of the chief executive and his “vision thing.”

However, a sure knowledge of human nature, and the foibles of ambitious and sometimes greedy politicians can overcome a lack of experience. Deeply held convictions are important, too, and must be held deeply enough to survive the sharp elbows of Washington, where a deep knowledge of how Washington works is crucial. Barack Obama is the current example of what can happen when a president has only “a vision thing” and no experience in working with legislators, and who imagines that his own convictions and ideas trump those of everyone else.

Two former governors, Jeb Bush of Florida and Rick Perry of Texas, along with a sitting governor, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are waiting in the wings. They’re all veterans of both the hustings and the state house, and have the bruises, cuts and scars to prove it. The senators have the advantage of having learned up close and personal how the Washington game works, with the advantage of having knowledgeable and practiced aides to whisper facts in their ears.

Ideas are a prerequisite for an effective presidency but facts are not enough. If knowing how to manage the machinery was all there was to it, some of the well-meaning presidential failures — Chester Alan Arthur, Warren Harding, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter come to mind — would be more kindly remembered. The ability to choose the right men and women to stock an administration is important, too.

It’s easy to catalog Mr. Obama’s misfortunes and misadventures, his stubborn demand that it’s his way or the highway, that he need not listen to Congress or anyone else. His inability to compromise on the smallest details, driven by an alien ideology, demonstrates what can happen when the wrong man makes it to the White House.

Campaigns are effective testing grounds, and weak campaigners generally make weak presidents. Fortunately, the arguments over experience versus vision will be sorted out over the coming months. There’s time enough. Indeed, it’s good to keep in mind that a year from now the election will still be nearly seven months in the future. Fresh faces, like seasoned veterans, all have their appeal. Some have more appeal than others. The unwashed and uninformed masses, who may not now be much interested in presidential politics, will wash up and get informed later.

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