Governance versus Scholarship

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The previous edition of the Saint featured an insightful piece by Nick Cassella entitled Elitism versus common, in which he exposed the hypocrisy evidenced by politicians who strategically distance themselves from politics, with his particular case study being the upcoming GOP presidential primaries.

I believe however, that Mr. Cassella has misjudged the details of this particular political contest, and that there are some very interesting practical points to be drawn from this confusion.

The Parliamentary democracy we are used to in Britain is thoroughly different in its arrangement of power and responsibility from the Constitutional Republic model. Whereas the British executive is drawn from the legislative body, the executive branch of the Federal Government is thoroughly distinct from the legislative branch. Not only do statesmen not hold multiple offices, they are expected to be an entirely different type of official.

To criminally condense Article II of the Constitution and Federalist 69, 70, 74 and 75; the President should be a leader, not a lawmaker. The key to fulfilling the duties of the office should be the complement of the judgment required for effective leadership, and the experience of proper execution of this judgment. Outright intelligence should be, at best, a bonus, not a necessity, and definitely not an alternative.

This can be evidenced in a number of telling ways. George Washington was the unanimous choice to be the nation’s first president, and yet he had a minimal role in the drafting of the Constitution. He was not an intellectual, but a general; a leader; a man of judgment. The unanimity of Washington’s approval is given even greater weight when considering his backing by such luminaries as Ben Franklin and John Jay, who, despite being brilliant intellectuals, identified the suitability to the role of President of a man like Washington over men such as themselves. It is no coincidence that, in the history of the office, former generals outnumber PhDs 8 to 1.

The mistake Mr. Cassella makes is ignoring the history and thus the expectation that comes with this rather unique post. His view seems tailored towards a critique of a campaign for a legislative role, in which case I would agree whole-heartedly. In fact, anyone tuning in to such a contest in the US will be treated to the Question-Time-esque ‘we’re all in it together’ drivel that we have come to expect in Britain, with just a little more gun-toting. Also, crucially, such leadership qualities evidenced by having served as a General, CEO etc. will be played up to a much lesser degree. It is far more likely in this arena to hear talk of PhDs, should the candidates possess them.

What Mr. Cassella fails to appreciate is that this entirely different position requires an entirely different campaign strategy. Rick Perry governed the state that created more than a third of the Nation’s jobs during the recession through regulatory cuts and simplified tax codes. Herman Cain rescued a General Mills subsidiary from almost certain bankruptcy and turned a profit by his third year. Mitt Romney single handedly re-organised the Winter Olympics, turning an expected $400 million loss into a $100 million profit. He also donated his salary for this post to charity. Judgment and experience: its what they are all trying to sell.

It is important to realise that the ‘common man’ angle Mr Cassella seems so angry to have to listen to is not in and of itself a political selling point. It is implicitly both a direct alternative to an untested academic background and a reminder that these men (and women) have succeeded in the real world. You may not know that Mitt Romney earned a joint Juris Doctor and MBA at Harvard, but that is probably because he didn’t tell you; it’s not that relevant.

For the role of executive office, there is real merit to being almost anything other than a career politician, so long as you were good at it. The more of a career politician someone was, the less good at real stuff they were. I quite like Mr Cassella’s analogy of a doctor who doesn’t know what he is doing, but I think it needs amending. Delusional democratic utopians aside, everybody knows that an elected politician’s job is to get re-elected. Fulfilling the duties of the office is also an important consideration, but when further employment is on the line, it is often the first thing to go. Apply this to the doctor analogy: If you really want someone who will fulfill the duties of the office, would you rather be treated by a brilliant career doctor who suspiciously requires that you always come back for more costly treatment? (this is one of those doctors that you pay for, not the Obamacare types) or would you prefer a surgeon/nurse/sort-of-doctor, who nonetheless has an excellent record of fulfilling the duties of the office, albeit in a slightly different field.

Granted, it is not at all a straightforward decision, and I am not suggesting otherwise, but a curious fact of American political life is that the average American is far more aware of these possibilities than the average Brit.

If you hear a campaigning MP tell you how much of a common man he is, chuck a pie at his silk cravat. If you hear it from a Presidential nominee, however, lower your pie; it might just be true.

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