Friday, April 11, 2008


An unusual presidential election in several ways

It’s certainly remarkable that the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee will certainly be either the first woman or the first African American to be in serious contention for the presidency. In fact, the polls say that whichever the nominee is, he or she will win over the Republican Party’s choice, so it’s very likely that we’ll soon — though not soon enough, by far — have a the first female or black president in the White House. Though let’s not get too complacent; the polls have been wrong before.

But there’s something else remarkable here, something that’s easy to overlook with all the rest that’s going on. We haven’t elected a sitting U.S. senator in 48 years, and not for 40 years before that... and we’re nearly certain to do so this year: all three of the likely winners are current senators.

The voting public seems to prefer executive experience, and we generally elect former vice presidents or governors. Look at the record for the last 100 or so years:

Year first
2000George W. BushGovernor
1992Bill ClintonGovernor
1988George H. W. BushVice President
1980Ronald ReaganFormer Governor
1976Jimmy CarterGovernor
1968Richard Nixon[1]Former VP
Former Senator
1964Lyndon JohnsonPresident[2]
Former VP
1960John F. KennedySenator
1952Dwight EisenhowerGeneral of the Army[3]
1948Harry S TrumanPresident[2]
Former VP
1932Franklin Delano Roosevelt    Governor
1928Herbert HooverSecretary of Commerce[3]
1924Calvin CoolidgeVice President
Former Governor
1920Warren G. HardingSenator
Former Lieutenant Governor
1912Woodrow WilsonGovernor
1908William Howard TaftSecretary of War
former colonial Governor
1904Theodore RooseveltPresident[2]
Former VP
Former Governor
1896William McKinleyGovernor

Until now, John F. Kennedy was the only president we’ve elected with no prior executive experience since Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

I think that all three candidates are qualified for the job. And yet it has to be daunting: whoever is elected will inherit a country with serious problems, domestic and foreign, and has a difficult job ahead. Experience at something other than legislation — and no, I don’t count Mrs Clinton’s years with her husband in the White House as executive experience — would help.

[1] Since Gerald Ford wasn’t elected (not even as VP), I’m not counting him at all.

[2] Took over when his predecessor died in office.

[3] Eisenhower’s five-star General position certainly qualified as "executive", as did Hoover’s cabinet position.


lidija said...

Actually, both Dems are now even with McCain in polls.

As far as the executive experience goes, Bush 43 had it and a whole lot of good it did him... Others too, you could argue. I don't really think that the voters think about the executive experience per se, but rather that those with it know how to win a person-in-chief seat and perhaps can tap into the base better? Just some random thoughts...

Barry Leiba said...

So you think I have the cause and effect reversed. Interesting.

You might be right, yes.