August 12, 2004
Can Kerry Execute?: Why governors make better presidents than senators do. (PETE DU PONT, August 12, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
My senior senator, Joe Biden of Delaware, gave a hometown speech earlier this year about U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. It was a thoughtful presentation, but it included a criticism of the election of former governors to the presidency because they had no foreign-policy experience and thus were insensitive and less capable regarding foreign policy and international concerns. Senators who've served on the Foreign Relations Committee, he implied, would do much better.
But Mr. Biden has it backwards. Of the 17 presidents of the 20th century, from Teddy Roosevelt through Bill Clinton, eight had been executives before coming to the White House (seven governors and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower), and seven had served in Congress but lacked executive experience. (William Taft and Herbert Hoover held only appointive offices before becoming president.) The current book "Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House," compiled by The Wall Street Journal and the Federalist Society, asked 78 scholars to rate all our presidents. Among the 20th-century presidents, five of those with executive experience--Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ike, Ronald Reagan and Woodrow Wilson--ranked as great or near great. Among the seven with legislative experience, only Harry S. Truman made the cut. On average, 20th-century presidents who had been governors (plus Eisenhower) scored 3.51 on a five-point scale; the others who had served in the House or Senate, 2.81.
Which leads to the conclusion that America is usually better off with a president who has had executive experience before reaching the White House.
It's worse than that even--subtract Truman, who doesn't belong, and you face the possibility that the only successful president ever to be primarily a legislator was Abraham Lincoln. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2004 9:49 AM