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Opinion

May 17, 2014

Shribman: Who is qualified to be president?

Marco Rubio is a freshman Republican senator from Florida, a virtual unknown outside political circles but already a possible presidential candidate. The other day he won headlines by pronouncing himself ready to be chief executive of the greatest power on Earth.

If Rubio, who turns 43 this month, were elected, he would have less than one term in the U.S. Senate. You might think of him as a drive-by senator, presumptuous in believing himself qualified for the top executive office, except that his 70 months would be more than 50 percent longer than the amount of time Barack Obama spent in the Senate before being elected to the White House.

All of which raises an important question: What does it take to be ready, to be qualified, to be president of the United States?

Here are some people who were, by ordinary reckoning, ready to be president of the United States:

Sen. Robert J. Dole of Kansas, a disabled World War II veteran who was in Congress for more than a third of a century. He lost the 1996 election.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a celebrated Vietnam prisoner of war who served on Capitol Hill for a quarter century when he won the Republican nomination in 2008. He lost to Obama.

Albert Gore Jr., a Vietnam veteran and son of a senator who served in the House and Senate and as an unusually activist vice president for eight years. He lost the 2000 election.

And one more ...

Walter F. Mondale, a state attorney general, senator and vice president. In 1974 he made the extraordinary remark that he wasn’t ready to be president, regarded then as now as a comment of unusual probity and maturity. He spent the time between the end of his vice presidency and the 1984 campaign studying up on the vital issues of the time, and once emerged from his Minneapolis law office to announce to an astonished colleague: I finally understand the Federal Reserve. On the day he declared his candidacy for the White House he proclaimed, “I am ready to be president.” By any reasonable measure, he probably was. He lost 49 states.

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