In politics, as in every other field, experience counts, and in fact may be the most important quality a candidate for an important post possesses. This is even more true for the presidency than any other position. Certainly, there are some things one can learn on the job, but a certain level of sophistication and experience are necessary in a president for his or her administration to be successful. Wisdom only comes with age, and a short stint as a senator, governor, or community organizer is not enough to produce an outstanding president. (This is not to say that experience alone makes a good president.)
Would you want a high school player to manage a professional sports team, making the personnel moves and controlling the strategy and tactics? Would you hire a person with no managerial or administrative experience to be the CEO of a large corporation? Would you want an inductee into the Army to be placed in charge of a division, directing its moves and plan of attack when confronting the enemy?
The answer to all the above questions is obviously no. You would desire someone with experience for these jobs, someone who knew how to interact with people, motivate them properly, and get them to function the way he or she wanted, so that the team or company or division would work well together.
The same is true in politics and particularly for the presidency. The president doesn’t have to be knowledgeable in every field, as he or she hires the cabinet and presidential staff to take care of running the various departments and agencies of the government, coming to the president when important decisions have to be made.
But the president has to be sophisticated enough and have adequate experience to choose the right people for his or her cabinet and staff. And he or she has to be able to manage them and make sure all the departments and agencies are running well. For anyone thrust into this position, the tasks can be overwhelming, and almost impossible for someone with no managerial or administrative experience.
To get his or her agenda passed, the president also must interact with important members of the Senate and House, including the heads of the opposition party. This means being able to “schmooze” with them, dine with them and their wives, and enjoy relaxing time together. If there is comity and friendship between the president and the members of Congress and the Senate, it is possible to get more important legislation passed, as an aura of trust is built up and the ability to negotiate options in various bills. This is part of a leader’s experience, being able to deal well with customers and the competition, convincing them of your vision and how it might benefit them.
Lecturing people, or trying to teach them from a higher plane is not the answer, as that merely antagonizes them and makes it less likely your ideas will be accepted. Friendship, or at least a common respect has to be engendered among people at all levels to instill a willingness to work with a leader in any field.
Reluctantly, I must admit that my wife and I voted for Obama both in 2008 and 2012, expecting that he would be able to change the atmosphere in Washington, bringing Republicans and Democrats together to get the nation’s work done. There is no question that the Republicans have gone out of their way to stymie Obama during his years in office, to guarantee that his presidency would not be considered a success. But Obama did not challenge them aggressively enough in an attempt to get things done in a bipartisan manner. He did not reach out to their leadership to establish relationships with them, to schmooze, or have dinners, or pick up the phone and shoot the sh-t for a while, so that he or they could easily talk whenever necessary to try and work out problems.
Obama also concentrated on passing the Affordable Care Act when he took office, instead of attacking unemployment and a tepid economy. Those were the areas concerning most Americans and Obama dropped the ball perhaps due to a lack of experience. Health care reform was needed but shouldn’t have been at the top of his to-do list.
Obama has also not been able to develop close relationships with any foreign leaders. The problems have been the same as his inability to bond with Senators or members of Congress. He has also projected a belief that America was weak, being unable to reach an agreement with Iraq to leave American troops in place, which might have stopped ISIS from forming. He also let Syria cross the “red line” he had set up, saying the US would not let Assad get away with using poison gas as a weapon. These and other actions may have emboldened Russia’s Putin to grab Crimea and more of the Ukraine, knowing the US would not react in any significant way.
A leader with more experience may have run into the same problems as Obama, but there was a better chance of that person being more successful because he or she had been “around the block once or twice before.” Experience does count.