Presidential Competency: What Should We Look For?

October 20th, 2016 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized

Note to Readers: During the six years of this blog, I have never stated a preference for any candidate for office. My focus instead has been on how we can use our reason and emotions to understand and think about the issues that make up our public and private lives. Given the magnitude of what seems, to me, at stake in the forthcoming election, however, I divert from that policy in this post. As always, I try to approach the topic with reason and balance.

During the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said: "I prepared to be president." In an MSNBC interview earlier this year, asked what advisors he consults, Donald Trump said: "I'm speaking with myself, No. 1, because I have a very good brain . . . My primary consultant is myself." Clearly, both candidates consider themselves ready to take the Oath of Office. Soon, the voters will weigh in. What should we look for in judging the capability of a presidential candidate?

There are at least four critical presidential competencies: executive experience, political savvy, expertise in domestic and foreign affairs, and prudential judgment. A president is the "CEO" of a complex workforce of millions and a budget of trillions. Knowing how to lead a large organization matters. The presidency requires political "smarts" - to transform election promises into enacted programs. This means the ability to generate political support, work with Congress, and navigate the political shoals of dealing with state, local and international governments. A president must also understand the complexity and inter-relatedness of domestic and foreign issues, the strategic challenges they pose. A Commander in Chief must have foresight. Finally, a president must make carefully considered decisions amidst intense pressure and often unpalatable but necessary tradeoffs - and understand the implications of alternative courses of action and how they further or damage long-term national interests. Clearly, some competence comes with growth in the presidency, but it helps to have a head start.

Hillary Clinton has seen both state government and the White House from the inside as First Lady, served as a Senator, and worked on Congressional committees dealing with issues as varied as the budget, armed services, the environment, public works, health, education, labor, and aging. As Secretary of State, she had wide exposure in international affairs and negotiations, traveled extensively, and championed women's rights in the developing world. While in the White House, she led the Clinton health care initiative. In the current campaign, her policy and program prescriptions, even if we disagree with them, show a depth of understanding of a wide range of domestic and international challenges. At the same time, she has never led anything larger than a White House or Senate office staff.

Experience, of course, does not always equate to competence. Her health care effort failed, in part due to the inability to generate political support. Some of her decisions as Secretary of State - such as her support of the use of force in Libya without adequate preparation for the post-Gadaffi era - were poorly made or executed. Her judgments, such as support for the Iraq war, which she later publicly regretted, have sometimes seemed predicated more on political calculations than national interests, including her flip from support to opposition in regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Donald Trump has considerable executive experience, given the widespread and varied nature of his business enterprises. He has not held public office, though he clearly has engaged with the political system on behalf of his businesses and in the current campaign. His grasp of domestic and international affairs seems mostly informed by his political views and business experience. It is neither wide nor deep, eschewing as he has the need to read, travel to meet foreign leaders, or study deeply.

Though he leads a large organization, that enterprise has had significant failures - multiple bankruptcies, legal challenges and lawsuits. His effort to define domestic policies has suffered from frequent confusion and flip-flops, such as on the subject of immigration, where has gone from insisting that eleven million illegal immigrants be rounded up and deported to claiming that he only wants to do that with the criminals among them. His one foray into international affairs, in Mexico, resulted in angering the Mexican president and people, especially when he took a dramatically different and negative tone domestically the same night he returned from his trip. His suggestions that he may withhold support for NATO if nations don't pay their fair share and encourage Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea to considering acquiring nuclear weapons evidence a tendency to shoot from the hip without careful consideration of long-term consequences in those regions or to the national interest.

Trump prides himself on intuition. While intuition has a place in strategic leadership, he seems to lack the same respect for factual objectivity and prudence. His political skills certainly demonstrate the ability to go from reality TV to the pinnacle of national power, but he has shown a tendency to burn as many political bridges as he has built, even with those in his own party who disagree with him. Intolerance of dissent can be disastrous in the formulation and execution of national policy, as Kennedy learned at the Bay of Pigs, Johnson in Vietnam, and Nixon during Watergate. Further, while a president can hire brilliant people to craft and manage policy and programs, those people will often disagree, forcing the decision to presidential judgment, which cannot be delegated.

As the public senses, both Clinton and Trump raise concerns on their competence to lead the nation. While this brief analysis cannot fully explicate the topic, it seems clear that Clinton has wider experience, more sober judgment, and greater understanding of the complex demands and processes of presidential leadership. She is a safer, if not an inspiring, choice in the dangerous world that the next four years will present.

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Source: Elder Care Huffington Post

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