, Salem, MA


May 17, 2014

Shribman: Who is qualified to be president?


There have been very few advantages given to insiders. Gerald R. Ford, appointed but not elected president after Nixon’s resignation, was the ultimate insider, with a quarter century on Capitol Hill and GOP leadership credentials, and he was defeated by Carter. One of the reasons surely was his pardon of Nixon after Watergate, but Carter’s status as a fresh face was a major factor.

Indeed, the number of senators elected to the White House is small (16), and the number who have moved directly from the Senate to the presidency is minuscule: Warren Harding, Kennedy and Obama. Together the record of this group is modest, at best.

The recent governors-turned-president at least boast executive experience, a background Obama lacked and one which might explain some of the troubles he has encountered in his presidency. And almost every student of the presidency says that what really matters in the Oval Office, along with intelligence and integrity, is personality and perspective. Kennedy had all of it, Carter only part of it.

The late presidential analyst Richard Neustadt was famous for saying that “presidential power is the power to persuade.” In his classic 1960 work, “Presidential Power,” he argued that a president “makes his personal impact by the things he says and does.” He often added privately that the way he says and does things matters, too.

The verdict on Obama is still out. But he remains more promise than performance.

So Rubio and some of his amateur presidential rivals are more in the main current of American political life than generally recognized. Two other freshman senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both Republicans, are regarded as legitimate presidential candidates. So are four governors, Republicans Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana and Rick Perry of Texas as well as Democrat Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

Most Americans outside their states have never heard of any of them. Then again, how many Americans had heard of Barack Obama? He’s now the 44th president of the United States and the answer to a trivia question no longer.

North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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