Steel City Cowboy

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What Really Makes a Good President

Both sides in the current Presidential pre-campaign are claiming that members of the other ticket lack the experience to be President of the United States. Before you can really say who has proper experience or not, though, you should define what it is that a President needs to do. Here's how I think it breaks down:

1. Make the correct decision on executive matters (law enforcement, foreign affairs, dealing with Congress on legislation/budget issues) under time pressure, with less information than would be ideal. They also must be able to make these calls on the merits, not based on how much blow back they might get from the group that loses out.

2. Cultivate differing pathways of information. Relying on a single reporting chain will result in granting the gatekeepers of that pathway a certain amount of control over the decision making process. A President must not become a hostage to nor a dupe for his bureaucracy.

3. Correctly determine ulterior motives and willful deceptions in others with some degree of accuracy.

Those are the main skills. Of course, it helps if you're a "sleeps six hours a night or less" person like President Clinton. You can just get more done. It's science. Being able to give a good speech and having a knack for PR won't hurt you either. It's not a requirement, but will certainly make pulling off requirement #1 a lot easier.

So, which of the candidates currently running are qualified under these criteria? It's hard to tell. The best way to determine this would be to get everyone to agree on a set of criteria like this, then have the candidates directly address instances in their own past that demonstrate the desired behaviors. It would be like a targeted interview, instead of the sort of policy debates we have now which actually aren't very relevant to doing the job in my opinion. Policy is important, because it will suggest which way you break on certain situations (foreign policy crisis, showdown with Congress over budgetary items, etc.). The weakness of focusing purely on policy differences, though, is that it doesn't reflect how well the candidate will be able to decide between presented alternatives or how effectively they will be at coming up with their own.

What I would love to see would be a "National Job Interview" with each candidate sequestered like a real interview situation. It would focus not on policy issues and personal beliefs, but would function as a real job interview -- the questioner behind an imposing desk and the candidate facing them from a smaller standalone chair.

"Senator Obama, please tell us about a time when you had to make a specific policy decision, on a deadline, and had only been presented with sparse information. Also state the results of that decision."

"Senator McCain, give us an example of a time when someone was lying to you in a professional capacity, you realized it, and took (or did not take) action based on that knowledge."

"Governor Palin, explain to us how you have attempted to prevent your close group of advisors from achieving a strangle hold on information that reaches you."

The candidates would each get a chance to express a counter example about their opponents for the same question when things turned out poorly for them.

"Senator Biden, please explain to us why we are so totally lucky to be hanging out today with someone as cool as yourself."

Okay, that last one might not be real question, but I'm sure that Lunch Bucket Joe would be happy to talk about it until the next commercial break.

So now I'm wondering how I can convince CNN or Fox News to let me host something like this. I think it would be incredible, especially if I got to electro-zap them if they strayed off course into policy talking points. Well, I probably wouldn't do that to McCain or Palin, just because I'd be worried that they'd kick my ass in the parking lot after the show. And I get too much fun out of Biden to do that to him. Now who does that leave?

Maybe I wouldn't be the best host for the show.