According to the New Republic’s John B. Judis, none of the six major presidential candidates for 2008 is qualified to be president. Five of them have no foreign policy experience (sorry Hillary, but being First Lady doesn’t really count, and as a senator you haven’t been involved). The one whose resume shows him to be qualified, John McCain, is discounted by Judis because “in his dogged pursuit of a neoconservative agenda, McCain shows little evidence of having acquired any wisdom from that experience.”
Given what’s at stake in 2008, Judis is right to be alarmed.
Like everything else that’s wrong with politics nowadays, the roots of the problem in selecting a president qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and our nation’s representative to the world go back to the 1960s, Judis says. By the 1970s…
(p)opular primaries became the main vehicle for nominating candidates. That meant that the party itself, and the party convention, became increasingly irrelevant. What mattered was a candidate’s ability to win votes in the primaries, especially the early ones. Foreign policy played a peripheral role, and only as a component of the themes the candidate developed. What mattered most was the ability of the candidate–best evidenced by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush–to make voters feel that he cared personally about them. That demanded special skills from a candidate and from a large campaign staff devoted to polling and media, including advertising.
Jimmy Carter was the first of these post-sixties candidates, and he set the standard that subsequent candidates have followed. Even though the United States was still in the throes of a foreign policy crisis caused by its defeat in Vietnam, he ran primarily on a Watergate promise of personal honesty and integrity. His experience consisted of one term as Georgia’s governor. He had no experience in foreign policy and was being tutored during the campaign by Zbigniew Brzezinski, but the voters didn’t hold it against him. George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 was a carbon copy of Carter’s campaign. He stressed personal qualities and knew, if anything, even less about foreign policy than Carter did. But he ran a skillful campaign and won.
Few of these candidates could boast any expertise in foreign policy. Many of them, as in the past, were governors. The senators and House members who ran for president were unlikely to have served on the foreign relations committees–committees that are generally shunned by presidential aspirants because they are irrelevant to local constituents and because they don’t provide a basis for fundraising. When challenged on whether they had the experience to be president, many of the candidates cited their experience running for president. The ability to campaign became the test of the ability to govern.
Whenever I read things like this, I always say to myself: “God must love the United States of America. Left to our own devices, we’d be screwed.” I hope we haven’t done anything to piss Him off.
Who would be qualified to serve as president, who has a chance? Gore is the obvious choice. Who else?