It's remarkable. Lawrence Martin writes that, when it comes to choosing presidents and prime ministers, we have preferred men who have had little experience in government.
Mr. Obama, who served in the Illinois legislature, hadn’t even completed one Senate term in Washington before running for president.
Donald Trump was the first president who had no political experience or public service whatsoever.
George W. Bush, who served a few years as governor of Texas after being a baseball-club owner, had nowhere near the experience of his father, who was president from 1989 to 1993. Among other missteps stemming in part from his callow, cocksure ways was his blundering into the Iraq war.
Finding three other presidents serving in succession with such modest qualifications is no small task.
It's been the same story here:
In Canada, Justin Trudeau had served a few years on the opposition benches and as Liberal leader, but had no governing experience before becoming Prime Minister. He brought in a cohort of younger-generation types like himself who offered some fresh perspectives and fresh policies. But his team often excluded older pros who could have prevented embarrassing sophomoric lapses, which did not afflict Pierre Trudeau’s more veteran crew.
Likewise, Stephen Harper only had experience as an opposition member of Parliament before becoming PM. Calling himself an economist, as the brainy ideologue did, was a stretch. He was parochial, having rarely set foot outside the country before becoming leader of a G7 country.
His reign importantly addressed Western Canadian discontent. But his grounding was too narrow for him to take on statesman-like qualities. He governed with a chip on his shoulder, instead of doing so with goodwill.
Joe Biden is a refreshing change from the recent past:
Biden, the oldest and most experienced president in the history of his country, marks a sharp break with recent history. He is in a position to re-establish the importance of pedigree, the idea that if you’re set on occupying the most important position in the land, maybe you should have suitable credentials.
We too have had prime ministers who spent a long time on the lower decks before they came to the helm:
The closest thing to a Joe Biden that Canada has had in terms of experience is Jean Chrétien, who served in 11 cabinet portfolios before becoming prime minister. After barely surviving a Quebec referendum vote in 1995, the Shawinigan fox, as Bob Plamondon called him in his book of that name, governed effectively. He knew the country; he had it in his bones.
Another elder statesman, Louis St. Laurent, who became PM at age 66, didn’t fare too badly either. Nor did his contemporary in the Oval Office, Dwight Eisenhower, who became president at 62 with the experience of having led the Allied forces in the Second World War. The Republican presidency deemed the most successful in modern times is that of Ronald Reagan, who didn’t take office until age 69.
There were exceptions. President Kennedy was young and inexperienced. And Martin thinks that Brian Mulroney's inexperience was not an impediment. Mulroney's character was another matter.
There is, it seems to me, a lesson here. Experience counts for something. Human resources professionals operate on the principle that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.
Image: Package Car Union