Saturday, June 26, 2021

Experience Counts For Something

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 Chr├ętien, 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


13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Name recognition seems to count for more than experience, which is why we see political dynasties even in a democracy. JT benefitted from his father's name, as did Dubya. Doug Ford certainly benefitted from the name of his well-known father and brother. Hillary should have benefitted from the Clinton name, but had the misfortune to run against a well-known male reality TV personality.

In theory, as the son of an Ontario MPP, O'Toole should have some name-recognition advantage in his home province. But when his party traffics so heavily in white Christian grievance and Western alienation, it's no wonder he's polling lower than Scheer did. And Singh, unlike Layton, lacks any kind of name recognition in the riding he represents, let alone the country. His poll numbers are consistent with that reality.

Cap

Owen Gray said...

Politics is all about branding these days, Cap. Experience counts for little.

thwap said...

Lawrence Martin really phoned that one in. A foundational notion of democracy is that ordinary people are qualified to run their own socieites. The idea that we are best led by experienced, professional politicians is the antithesis of that.

Which isn't to say that any ordinary shlub could make an effective leader. Or that there aren't advantageous to having experienced politicians who know how things are supposed to work.

His three examples are interesting: Reagan was widely regarded as an authoritarian airhead. His foreign policy in Latin America was disgusting. He helped destroy the unions and ushered in the age of deregulation and corporate control that has failed us all so miserably.

Jean Chretien robbed the Unemployment Insurance program to finance his deficit reduction and tax-cuts for the wealthy policies. He began the retreat from sharing the costs of the welfare state with the provinces that led to the provinces brutal reductions across the board. He started us on our catastrophic adventure in Afghanistan. He was just a mindless neo-liberal functionary.

Biden is a mental mediocrity in love with the sound of his own voice. His longevity in office stems from his loyal servicing of the financial services sector in his state of Delaware. He is know for pandering to racist opponents of bussing. He is known for wanting to gouge social security and medicare. He is know for his racist, mass-incarceration crime bills. He voted for and supported the criminal invasion of Iraq.

Just watch <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wA-lQEYaulc>this video of him lying</a> insanely about his academic achievements back in 1988 and ask yourself if you, or any other normal person would behave that way.

Owen Gray said...

In a functioning democracy, everyone's vote should be of equal value, thwap. But not everyone can lead a democracy.

The Disaffected Lib said...


Government seems to have lost its allure to "the best and the brightest." That has left us dependent on celebrity or, as Cap puts it, name recognition.

Thwap says that "A foundational notion of democracy is that ordinary people are qualified to run their own societies." So what? He seems to suggest that leaders must be found in the rank and file. Why?

A foundational notion of democracy is that every citizen can choose whomever they please from the slate of candidates to run their society and, if they prefer an individual who is highly qualified, that's just fine. It's their choice.

The more experienced the candidate, the broader their vision. Lester Bowles Pearson comes to mind. A scholar, soldier, statesman and diplomat. He never had a majority government but look what he accomplished, netting a Nobel Peace Prize for it. Contrast Pearson's background with our current prime minister or any of the last three Conservative leaders. Pretty thin gruel.

We don't get leaders of Pearson's stature today. Those of that caliber steer clear of politics. It's the worst possible moment for flagging leadership.

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps the best and the brightest are too smart to go into politics, Mound.

Northern PoV said...

Biden's 'experience' amid the current 'bankruptcy of leadership' put him into office.
I fear it is exactly the wrong (ie attempted-bi-partisanship/cold warriorism) experience needed to lead the world out of the quagmire.

In Canada, young-Trudeau has played an old-Biden-like role since 2015.

Both of these 'poll-followers' only look good because of whom the they defeated/succeeded.

Northern PoV said...

Here is a leader speaking outside the Overton window on cable news TV. RIP Mike

https://twitter.com/banditelli/status/1409143791185846279

Owen Gray said...

There's a great deal of truth in what you say, PoV. There's a big difference between shrewdness and courage.

thwap said...

Sigh.

Lawrence Martin is the one making the assertion: "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?." (emphasis added)

Along with Biden, Martin cites the examples of Reagan and Chretien. All three of these men left dubious (to say the least) records of achievement.

Owen, you wrote: "In a functioning democracy, everyone's vote should be of equal value, thwap. But not everyone can lead a democracy."

But I already wrote: "Which isn't to say that any ordinary shlub could make an effective leader. Or that there aren't advantageous to having experienced politicians who know how things are supposed to work."

It appears that MoS missed that too. Since he claims I said: "He seems to suggest that leaders must be found in the rank and file. Why?"

I said no such thing. I don't even have a problem with the statement: "A foundational notion of democracy is that every citizen can choose whomever they please from the slate of candidates to run their society and, if they prefer an individual who is highly qualified, that's just fine. It's their choice."

I find it depressing that Lawrence Martin can write an editorial claiming that we do ourselves a disservice when we elect people without lengthy CV's and deprive ourselves of the talents of men of experience, and then uses three examples that undercut his whole argument.
I write a response that says that good leaders can come from anywhere, whereupon you [Owen] repeat my own idea back to me as if its supposed to be a revelation, and MoS ignores what I wrote and then invents things that I did not write.

My original comment was 273 words. Surely we aren't all so bamboozled by the internet/social media age as to be incapable of sustained attention for an exertion of effort as small as reading that?!?

Owen Gray said...

You're always welcome to respond to responders, thwap. If I read you correctly, it seems you don't have much faith in the people in the system -- experienced or inexperienced. The problem is still flawed humanity.

thwap said...

Owen,

I mean that good leaders can come from anywhere. A long-term politician who knows how the system works. A person with a lot of genuine accomplishments in the private sphere. A young idealist with courage and wisdom. Anywhere.

But my main thing with the editorial is that his three illustrative examples undercut his argument.

Sorry for the late reply. I'm at work and away from my computer for 15 hours a day during the week.

Owen Gray said...

These days, being away from a computer can be a good thing thwap. I agree that good leaders can come from anywhere. And, yes both Biden and Chretien -- despite their experience -- are flawed human beings.

So the question becomes, How do those flaws affect the big picture? Will they do irreparable damage?