Experience Really Does Matter

When I grow up (like that will ever happen!), I want to be Gail Collins.

The witty New York Times columnist has an uncanny ability to hit political nails on their pointy little heads. Most recently, she considered the emergence of Presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, both of whom are touting their total lack of political experience as a reason to vote for them.

Virtually every elected president in American history — not counting the occasional military hero — made his way to the top by getting elected to other offices first. There are a couple of exceptions who just served in the cabinet, like Herbert Hoover. We can all look forward to hearing a candidate vow to return us to the golden days of the Hoover administration.

(Here in Indianapolis, we have some recent experience with a chief executive who knew nothing about politics or the governance of a city–or even what a city ought to look like– when he was elected. His steep learning curve has cost Indianapolis in numerous ways.)

When she was in business, I doubt that Fiorina would have hired a high-level executive who had no experience relevant to the position being filled, so one wonders why she thinks her own lack of experience somehow qualifies her for the presidency. (I won’t even raise the issue of her ignominious departure from Hewlett-Packard, after controversies which suggest she wasn’t all that successful in the private sector, either.)

I’ll leave the final word to the better wordsmith. As Collins wrote

People who run for president boasting that they aren’t politicians are frequently just trying to compensate for a lack of political skill. Carson (who presumably wants to run government like an operating room) is going to appeal to the folks who think the military is plotting to take over Texas, but otherwise, his only political gift seems to be for making outrageous statements. Fiorina ran for the Senate in 2010 and was beaten by Barbara Boxer, who was thought to be a vulnerable incumbent until Fiorina got hold of her, racking up a grand total of 42 percent of the vote.

On the plus side, Fiorina’s campaign produced one of the all-time great attack videos, in which her more moderate primary opponent was depicted as a Demon Sheep, portrayed by a man crawling across the grass with what looked like a wooly rug over his back and a piece of cardboard on his face. After that it was downhill all the way.

If you’re shopping for candidates with no experience in the business they want to lead, I’d say at least go for the one with the Demon. But really, there are smarter buys.