What do you expect a freshman senator with no legislative accomplishments and no executive experience to say about his qualifications for president? You got it — experience doesn’t matter! That was response of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to former senator and presidential nominee Bob Dole, who asserted that the trio of freshman senators (Paul, Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida’s Marco Rubio) didn’t have enough experience to be leader of the free world, chief executive and commander in chief.
Paul, who presumably wants ophthalmologists and other doctors to be experienced before handing the toughest cases, insisted, “I absolutely disagree with that because I think in some ways, when you have people who are career politicians, they’ve been beaten down by the system and are so part of the system that they can’t see all the problems of the system.” (You have to love the reflexive attack on “the system.” No wonder they made a fuss over him in Berkeley.) It isn’t entirely clear whether Paul was talking about just federal experience, but he held no job other than eye doctor before coming to the Senate.
It is easy to see why Paul is wrong. President Obama’s incompetent governance and a set of multifaceted and exceptionally dangerous international developments should convince most voters that it is better to have in the Situation Room and Oval Office a president who previously ran something, rather than an ideologue whose only public output to date has been words. For that matter, the government shutdown — sponsored by Paul and other first-termers — showed how problematic it is when those with zero experience and a faulty understanding of how government (and politics) work gain power. (By the way, at least Rubio served in the Florida House for eight years — and was speaker for two — before coming to the Senate, and Cruz headed Texas’s legal office of the solicitor general and held a batch of federal posts between 1999 and 2003. Voters will decide whether even those men have adequate preparation for the presidency.)
Now if you think the world can be left to its devices or we can just chop the federal government in half, I suppose the job of president seems simple. But, of course, it isn’t.
It takes a cavalier attitude toward governance and especially toward the job of commander in chief to think you can walk in off the street and do the job. Remember, Obama claimed that if he lacked experience, he at least had good judgment. (It turned out he had neither.)
Paul likes to think of himself as a follower of Ronald Reagan. Reagan had been governor of California for eight years and had spent decades studying, speaking and writing about Communism before he won the presidency — on his second try. He wasn’t “beaten down,” and he knew precisely what the problems were and how to go about fixing them. He knew what he was doing and didn’t come to the White House without decades of preparation.
Experience doesn’t guarantee a good president, but I will go out on a limb and say in the 21st century, you can’t be a good president unless you’ve run something and had significant experience in some aspect of governance (which would include the military). If nothing else, the GOP nominee in 2016 is likely go up against Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will run rings around an uniformed, inexperienced and unprepared opponent. Her approval ratings may have slid, but faced with the choice between her and a rank amateur, the voters will be easily convinced that she is the more responsible and mature pick.
Nor do Republican voters in 2016 have to make a choice between someone with good conservative credentials and someone with experience. There are a boatload of governors who have both, plus Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Some of those governors have both state and House experience. GOP voters and the country at large have every reason to consider whether following eight years of Obama and a dangerous slide in U.S. stature, it is a good idea to hire someone with a Mount Everest-size learning curve.