Deeds, Not Words

Jeff Harrell is an odd fellow. That’s one of the reasons I once sponsored him for a guest-posting stint here at Wizbang. I read him not because I always agree with him, but because he almost always has something interesting to say. Even when I don’t agree with his conclusions, I find myself nodding along with his arguments.

Well, Jeff has come out with his endorsement for president, and I find myself once again nodding along while I read his points. He’s backing Barack Obama, and he presents a host of good arguments.

But I’m going to disagree with his conclusion.

I don’t really have a single quibble with any of Jeff’s statements about Senator Obama. Indeed, I think he’s largely right on most points. Obama is one hell of a speaker, and he (or his staff, if you’re of the cynical bent) has a knack for knowing just what to say, when to say it, and where to say it. He is one hell of a dynamic and inspirational speaker, with charisma and charm and grace — in short, he comes across as the kind of person who most people would be proud to rally around.

But being president isn’t all about good speaking. (The current president proves that pretty damned well — he gives some good speeches, but his public speaking fiascoes are the stuff of legend.) We are not choosing a chief elucidator, but a chief executive.

Obama is a career legislator. The primary function of a legislator is to reach agreements, to make compromises, to form consensuses. There is almost a herd mentality among legislators, and in legislative bodies there are very few alphas, very few herd or pack leaders — and Obama has not distinguished himself as a leader.

When it comes to the presidency, I find myself wanting someone who has a proven executive track record. Looking back, the only presidents in the last seventy years who did not have prior executive experience was John F. Kennedy. Roosevelt, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II were all governors; Eisenhower had been a five-star general; and Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Bush I had all been vice president. (Truman, Johnson and Ford, it must be noted, had relatively short tenures as veep after careers as legislators before unexpectedly ascending to the presidency, but did have some.)

Among the current candidates, only four of the candidates have some executive experience. Huckabee, Richardson, and Romney all served as governors, and Giuliani was mayor of a city that, were it a state, would be the 13th most populated, behind New Jersey and ahead of Virginia.

The cynic and the libertarian in me remembers the Thomas Paine quotation — “the government is best which governs least” — and wonders if an ineffective president is such a bad thing. But I am just old enough to remember the last ineffective president we had, and we’re STILL dealing with the messes Jimmy Carter left us. Thanks, but no thanks.

Obama is a man of tremendous gifts and talents. But he’s sorely lacking in executive experience. Fortunately for him (and, possibly, for us), he’s still relatively young for the presidency; in 2017, he’d still be younger than many of the current crop of candidates are today.

On the other hand, Jeff makes me realize that we could do worse than Obama for president — and occasionally have.

2007 Business Review -- Federal Reserve
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