Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Strong credentials don't make good candidates

The announcement yesterday of two candidacies for president present an interesting question: Do smart, successful people make good presidential candidates, or good presidents?

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Carly Fiorina announced Monday that they were running for the Republican presidential nomination. Carson had an illustrious career as a neurosurgeon, but anyone who is able to endure the challenges and rigors of medical school is, by definition, an intelligent and competent person. Fiorina had a successful career in the technology industry, rising to the top of the corporate ladder. In the dog-eat-dog competition of corporate rivalries and back-stabbing, that's quite an accomplishment.

But do either of these successful and admired individuals have what it takes to win the presidency? Unlike the worlds of medicine or technology, a presidential contest is a test of endurance, self-control and dogged determination. It requires what one potential candidate called the "fire in the belly." You have to want the presidency the way Jimmy Carter did. You have to be willing to sacrifice two years or more of your life, doing little else but raising money and appealing to voters, many of whom know little about governing or politics and only want you to commit to their own personal causes.

And if you are successful in committing yourself to winning your party's nomination and then the presidency, can you turn on a dime and govern the administration, working with a usually contentious Congress, to carry out the program that was your political platform. Some good candidates — Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter come to mind — were far better at running a campaign than they were at supervising the sprawling Executive Branch and contending with Congress. The two ventures require different skill sets, and it is rare to find someone capable to being good at both.

All of this leads to the question many Americans ask themselves: What kind of person would want to do what it takes to be president?

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