President Seeking

“We’re all family in the Democratic Party…”

So said Sen. Hillary Clinton, commenting on the alleged five- minute cease fire between the Obama camp and her own. But lest she confuse her political party with Archie Bunker’s house, let’s help the dear lady parse out what she apparently meant. The House of Clinton is not the Democratic Party (at least any longer) though it could be confused with the House of Borgia, that illustrious institution where compassionate accommodation was the rule, especially for close family. Evidence for this view came last week when she was asked on one of the network breakfast shows how she felt during the Lewinsky affair. “Well” she said, “I was desperately upset and hurt of course, but throughout it all I never once doubted Bill’s love for me.” 

Oh boy! Few families are ever problem free, but based upon how that particular problem was managed, or not, there is no evidence to support the theory that she could lead the most powerful nation in the world through an existential war.  But I digress.

Forget what that statement says about her judgment or her ambition, or both, just ponder upon how she will feel should Hugo Chavez or Ahmadinajad ever blow her a political kiss across the floor of the UN General Assembly, or Kim Jong il send seemingly seductive promises.  The contest to be the Presidential nominee candidate for either party is, pure and simple, a job interview, where an applicant provides a resume for consideration by a potential employer. If the potential employer identifies some potential match between the relevant skills on offer and the demands of the position available, then a further interview, or series of interviews then takes place.

And yet, for reasons that are far from clear, it appears that when the job opportunity is to become the Chief Executive of the most powerful nation on earth, members of the interview panel take leave of their senses and become infatuated with candidates who are unable to answer pertinent questions, are evasive in what few replies they do manage or simply ignore questions altogether and reply that they are “ready for the job”.

Regrettably, and very dangerously, candidates on both sides of the political divide are attracting support for reasons that have nothing to do with the health, wealth and security of our nation.

There’s a man who suffered the hell of being a Vietnam POW and who rightly deserves unending credit for that. But he cites his management and leadership credentials as having once commanded a squadron of naval aircraft which, while not an undemanding task, is hardly as challenging as that of the admiral in command of the battle group, or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. As a member of the US Senate for many, many years, his record is not that of a high flyer, more a low flyer, occasionally thrust aloft by a puff of self-generated hot air turbulence.

Another is a former Illinois State Senator who, in recent years, traded that job in for a similar one in the US Senate. Seemingly nice guy, speaks well and at length but without content or substance, appears to have some kind of affinity with some sectors of the work force (quite why is unclear), but has almost no relevant experience and no exposure to the really big challenges.

How about the former mayor who, when tested with the management of a major disaster and crisis, performed extremely well. However, outside this highly commendable attribute, has demonstrated questionable judgment in too many other areas. Or even, a former Governor of a mid-west state, plays guitar, very evidently a God-fearing man, but one whose decision processes may, perhaps, be too heavily influenced by external factors. Another candidate, though hardly worth mentioning; resume consisted of an almost blank but beautifully and expensively trimmed post-it note. Just said “two Americas, one giant ego”.      

Then there’s a most agreeable, principled and affable gentleman who has some experience of Washington, but it was clearly not so enjoyable that he wanted to stay there for long, preferring an acting career instead. Conservative credentials are pretty sound, but his ability to meet the challenges of such a demanding job have not yet been demonstrated. His campaign has yet to attract the support that it perhaps deserves.

And yes, dear reader, there is one absentee on this short list, you know who it is. He’s the one who actually has the best resume and the best track record of semi-relevant experience across the widest spread of senior management challenges in both the public and private sectors. Is he perfect? Heck no. No job interviewee ever represents the perfect fit, and the larger the interview panel is, the more promoters and detractors there will be. But let’s state one principle we must abide by in the process:  we need policies that are either already proven or at least thoroughly explained. Vague and unquantifiable interventionist promises to ailing back yard giants will not do.

If I ask you about energy policy, I want more than your statement that we need an energy policy. If you tell me that there is a large section of the population without adequate access to health care, I would like you to also tell me, in some detail, how you would address that problem and how you would pay for it. Don’t tell me that the UK’s National Health Service is the model we should follow. The (dis)United Kingdom has a population of 60 million people and this year their left of center government, after more than ten years in office, will spend more than $200 billion on that health service, and it still doesn’t work.

And if you tell me that we have a problem with education, then also tell me how you would prevent 30% of high school kids from dropping out. If you don’t like the influence of special interest groups, do you exclude organized labor from that category?

And what about defense and foreign policy? Tell me precisely what are the fundamental principles that you would apply to those areas, what proportion of our GDP should be spent on equipment, infrastructure and intelligence, what would your position be regarding our relationship with the UN?

Oh, by the way, this is the easy part of the interview. Wait until we get to Homeland Security and economics. I’d like to know your position on Immigration reform and the urgency you attach to securing our borders? What is your position on allowing our intelligence services to intercept, listen to and act upon the communications of our actual or potential enemies in an unencumbered and timely way?  I want to know what you think of Charlie Rangel’s $1 trillion tax hike package. I’d really like to know what you intend to do about the Social Security fund, or lack thereof. And please don’t tell me that because you spent eight years in the White House you automatically knew about and had some influence over everything that was going on. That might lead to an awkward and embarrassing silence.

Finally, let me tell you what I tell all the other candidates, lest you think I don’t like you and you tear up on me. I want coherent answers to all of the above. I don’t care about your gender or ethnicity and, as far as religion goes, I only require that you are genuinely a God-fearing person. I do care very much that both your expressed and demonstrated values are genuine and not just the product of your marketing advisors and, given the contractual terms attached to the job, I will need to be comfortable that I can trust you when I’m out of town and not looking.

You need to know I can get more of the same from almost anywhere and that’s not what I’m looking for. You need to know that this is not personal, it’s serious business.

No, being family buys nothing in this interview process. Nepotism never produces the right person. This time around the candidates, from wherever they hail, should be properly evaluated on precisely the same suitability for the job criteria as exists everywhere else. You don’t get a pass simply because the job opportunity happens to be for what is arguably the world’s top job. Quite the reverse.