In 2008, Americans elected as president a first-term senator who’d spent most of his career as a backbench state legislator, a man with no executive experience, no political-leadership experience, no national-security experience, and no record in business or the military. He was chosen in significant part because he was African American and was seen — in good part due to a 2004 convention speech — as offering a post-racial America. By the end of eight years of Barack Obama, we instead had a great escalation in racial division and race-obsession — from which we have yet to recover.
In 2016, Americans elected as president a political novice of famously dubious character, integrity, and judgment who had spent much of the previous decade hosting, essentially, a game show. He was chosen in significant part because he was a famous real-estate developer known for completing high-profile building projects. His campaign centered around a promise to build a wall across our southern border. By the end of four years of Donald Trump, some additional fencing had been erected to fortify key portions of the border, but no border-length wall was completed or even really attempted.
In 2020, Americans elected as president a geriatric fabulist and longtime Washington punchline who had been failing at presidential politics for 33 years. He was chosen in significant part because he had spent 36 years as a senator and eight years as vice president, and burnished a reputation as a man who understood the folkways and dealmakings of the Senate. A year into the presidency of Joe Biden, the centerpiece of his legislative agenda has gone down in flames because he was unable to persuade two members of his own party’s Senate caucus to vote for it.
It was once conventional wisdom that Americans elected governors to the presidency: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, Rutherford B. Hayes. That list includes some notorious failures, but quite a lot of success and accomplishment as well. Other accomplished presidents of the post–Civil War era included two supreme military commanders (Dwight Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant) and a Senate majority leader (Lyndon Johnson). Maybe we should give a shot at the job to somebody who has exercised real public leadership before. Because electing guys who are just supposed to be good at one thing, and keep failing to accomplish it, isn’t working.
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