Without fail, every discussion of Senator Obama’s presidential bid includes some mention of his qualifications (such as this Chicago Tribune article where Jonathan Zimmerman blatantly calls him unqualified). This discussion surely begs two questions. What qualifications have historically made a candidate “qualified,” and, perhaps more importantly, do these classic qualifications have any correlation to a successful presidency?
Classically qualified presidents have served significant terms in either a chamber of congress, or have been powerful state figures. LBJ served two terms in the House and two in the Senate before serving as both VP and later President. Jimmy Carter was active in Georgia as a State Rep and Senator, as well as governor, leading up to his election. These were men Zimmerman would have called qualified to be president.
But when we apply these expectations to the existing list of candidates, something surprising arises. The tone of the questions about Obama’s qualifications instantly brings about conclusions that each of the remaining contenders has airtight credentials. Yet do any of the other candidates scream presidential? Neither Democratic front-runners, Senator Clinton and John Edwards, have held political offices at any level for the decade that Obama has served the people of Illinois. While Senator McCain fits the bill–with his twenty-plus years serving the state of Arizona– neither Mitt Romney nor Rudolph Giuliani can lay claim to the length of service that Obama can.
All of this isn’t to say that Obama should be his party’s nominee because he has the most time serving his constituents, or even that these supposed qualifications have any real merit when picking a president. Jimmy Carter joined Richard Nixon as candidates who were impeccably “qualified” to be president. Yet I doubt you would call theirs successful presidencies.
A governor who had a constituency not even half that of Obama’s went on to guide the US through its most prosperous economic era–Bill Clinton. Governors almost instantly get the “qualified” label because of their supposed familiarity with the responsibilities of being an executive. Our current president was previously the governor of a state that dramatically limits the budgetary rights and responsibilities of it’s executive.
Perhaps some candidates have more experience necessary to lead the country than others, but do we want the presidency to be an office that is the culmination of an apprenticeship of sorts? Shouldn’t we all be looking for someone who we feel has the vision to see the needs of all Americans, and the judgment to do what is right in even the most difficult of times?
The next time you find yourself talking about the experience necessary to be president, and whether or not Obama has it, take a moment to ask yourself and those around you: “Who amongst these candidates has these qualifications and why it is that these qualifications are the deciding factor in voting for the President of the United States?”