Friday, May 20, 2016

Presidential Qualifications 2016

Harry Truman takes the Oath of Office
Recently both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have claimed that the other is unqualified to be President of the United States. I will leave their claims for another day but now would just like to look at the qualifications of some Presidents who have served during my lifetime.

In 1945 Vice-President Harry Truman became President after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in the first year of his unprecedented fourth term. At the time few people thought that Truman had even the qualifications or experience to even hold the largely ceremonial office of Vice-President.

Before being picked by Roosevelt to be his running mate in 1944, Truman had been a largely insignificant Senator from Missouri. He had been hand-picked for the Senate post by the powerful Prendergast political machine in St. Louis and was expected to do its bidding.

Yet Truman threw himself into his job and made it a point to immerse himself in the political, economic, and social realities of wartime America. When circumstances thrust him into the Oval Office, he had no executive experience other than his early attempt to run a haberdashery shop after he returned home from military service in WW I.

Nevertheless, he fooled most of the commentators and pundits and today is regarded as one of America’s better Presidents despite the fact that he often behaved in an un-Presidential manner even while in office.

Truman loved music and his daughter, Margaret, aspired to be a concert pianist. When a music critic panned one of her performances, Truman publicly threatened to punch him in the genitals if they ever met. Such conduct only endeared him to the American people and helped him win the Presidency in his own right in 1948 in one of the greatest political upsets in American history. “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” became his popular slogan.

In 1952 the Republican Party chose Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate for the Presidency. Eisenhower had no political experience at all. His whole life had been spent in the Army and he had risen to become the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe in WW II.  He was a wartime hero but still faced a primary battle against Robert Taft, a long-time Senator from Ohio with much more political knowledge and experience.

The party went for Eisenhower who was easily elected in both 1952 and 1956.  Although he brought the Korean War to an end, Eisenhower’s presidency was derided by liberal opponents but today he and his administration are increasingly being viewed in a better light. The relative peace and tranquility of the time provided a launching pad for American economic growth. The building of the National Highway System commenced during Eisenhower’s administration, and its great impact has been more revolutionary than practically any other development in American history.

It is hard to believe today but before Ronald Reagan became President in 1980, opponents and pundits claimed that he was unqualified for the job. He was just a movie actor, and a bad one at that. The fact that he had two very successful terms as Governor of California made no difference. He was still unqualified.

Today, he is close to being ranked with America's greatest Presidents. His economic policies brought down record high energy prices, interest rates, and inflation. In foreign affairs he will always be remembered for his role in bringing down the Berlin Wall and for the subsequent break up of the Soviet Empire.

It is interesting to compare these three Presidents to some with more political experience and qualifications. We just have to name Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes. The court is still out on Bill Clinton’s two terms even though his wife’s current campaign is trying to portray it as a kind of golden age.

To my mind the one quality that Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan shared was their ability to rise above party, faction, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference, and appear as President for all Americans. This quality is sadly lacking in the current occupant of the White House who has been one of the most divisive Presidents in history. It is also a quality that Hillary Clinton has never possessed and will never possess if her campaign rhetoric is to be believed. Trump seems to at least have the potential to be a President for all Americans. That is an important qualification. 


1 comment:

  1. Chiara comments from Italy:

    Well done, Frank. You make some great points. It is indeed amazing how some "unqualified" individuals can rise to the task! I love the picture: Truman's bow tie, Bess' hat, and Margaret's frumpy clothes. Bess sort of looks like Queen Eliz.