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Experience not required

I haven't fully worked out how far back the trend goes, but it seems that when it comes to electing presidents, we tend to choose the candidate with the least Washington experience.

2004: Bush had four years, Kerry decades.

2000: Bush zero, Gore decades.

1996: Clinton four, Dole decades.

1992: Clinton zero, Bush over a decade.

1988 was an aberration, but come on -- it was MIKE DUKAKIS. I recall one political commentator (I think it was Dave Barry) announced that "the union of crazed loners announce they are sitting out this election. They urge anyone who feels enough passion to kill either candidate should seek professional help."

1984: Reagan with four years, Mondale with -- again -- over a decade.

1980: Reagan zero, Carter 4.

1976: Carter zero, Ford decades.

Is this a statistical aberration, or a sign that Americans tend to prefer outsiders and reject career Washington politicians? I'm not sure, but it definitely bodes ill for candidates like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton (her term as First Lady will count, I think), Christopher Dodd, and John McCain, while encouraging to the likes of Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani, and Mike Huckabee.

I don't know how this will affect Fred Thompson. He spent almost a decade in the US Senate, and quite a few years in other jobs around DC, but he still has that "outsider" air about him that might counteract the cold hard facts on his resume.

Or this could all be just meaningless, an interesting statistical artifact.

Still, though -- food for thought.


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Comments (10)

If you'll note that most of... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

If you'll note that most of the people you've listed as having 'zero experience' in Washington, had experience as an executive elsewhere. With the exception of G.H.W. Bush, they were all governors (an executive position). However, G.H.W.B. was the Director of the CIA (an executive position) under President Carter.

My guess is that we see Congresscritters for what they are, pack animals. When voting for President, we prefer someone who posses (or at least the appearance of) leadership qualities and not someone with a herd mentality.

The mentioned winning candi... (Below threshold)
Diane:

The mentioned winning candidates have at least one thing in common: they all had executive governmental experience when elected. Bush, Sr. served as VP, and the rest served as governors. "Leadership" may have contributed to their being elected, but I would put my money on voters being tired of career politicians.

I do think it takes different skills to be in a leading role required by the executive position, as opposed to the skills it takes to serve in Congress, representing the constitutents. Unfortunately, Americans today, seem to want the president to "represent" the people (be like "me"), rather than lead (be wiser than "me")the people.

"However, G.H.W.B. was the ... (Below threshold)
Eric:

"However, G.H.W.B. was the Director of the CIA (an executive position) under President Carter."

Actually, Bush 41 was CIA Director under President Ford.

Ironically, I read an interview with Michael Moore just prior to the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 in which he made the same mistake and hinted that CIA Director Bush was responsible for creating the Taliban because of the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. As usual Michael Moore didn't quite notice that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan 3 years after Bush left the CIA.

Your post is particularly t... (Below threshold)

Your post is particularly timely, as I just finished read Stratfor's latest intel report. The topic? "GAMING THE U.S. ELECTIONS" (written by George Friedman).

Excerpt:

"Let's begin with what we regard as the three rules of American presidential politics since 1960:

The first rule is that no Democrat from outside the old Confederacy has won the White House since John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were all from the Confederacy. Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were from way outside the Confederacy. Al Gore was from the Confederacy but lost, proving that this is necessary, but not a sufficient basis for a Democratic win. The reason for this rule is simple. Until 1964, the American South was solidly democratic. In 1964 the Deep South flipped Republican and stayed there. If the South and mountain states go Republican, then the Democrats must do extraordinarily well in the rest of the country. They usually don't do extraordinarily well, so they need a candidate that can break into the South. Carter and Clinton did it, while Johnson did extraordinarily well outside the South.

The second rule is that no Republican has won the White House since Eisenhower who wasn't from one of the two huge Sunbelt states: California or Texas (Eisenhower, though born in Texas, was raised in Kansas). Nixon and Reagan were from California. Both Bush presidents were from Texas. Gerald Ford was from Michigan, Robert Dole from Kansas. They both lost. Again the reason is obvious, particularly if the candidate is from California -- pick up the southern and mountain states, pull in Texas and watch the Democrats scramble. Midwestern Republicans lose and northeastern Republicans do not get nominated.

The third rule is that no sitting senator has won the presidency since Kennedy. The reason is, again, simple. Senators make speeches and vote, all of which are carefully recorded in the Congressional record. Governors live in archival obscurity and don't have to address most issues of burning importance to the nation. Johnson came the closest to being a sitting senator but he too had a gap of four years and an assassination before he ran. After him, former Vice President Nixon, Gov. Carter, Gov. Reagan, Vice President Bush, Gov. Clinton and Gov. Bush all won the presidency. The path is strewn with fallen senators.

That being the case...."

You'll have to read the rest at Stratfor.com

It's well worth the click.

"However, G.H.W.B... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:
"However, G.H.W.B. was the Director of the CIA (an executive position) under President Carter."

Actually, Bush 41 was CIA Director under President Ford.

Oops.. you are correct. It was President Ford not Carter.

Andrea, thanks for the tip ... (Below threshold)
John F Not Kerry:

Andrea, thanks for the tip to Stratfor.com, except that in order to read it I need to register, which costs more money than I can afford. Besides, my network-connected computer won't even let me start the registratio process!

JayTea -- if you're interes... (Below threshold)

JayTea -- if you're interested in reading the entire Stratfor piece, email me at [email protected], and I'll forward it to you.

In my living memory, Eisenh... (Below threshold)

In my living memory, Eisenhower/Stevenson fit both times, Ike 0/4 (OK, I only sort kinda remember the '56 election), as did Kennedy/Nixon in '60. I'd call Johnson/Goldwater in '64 a draw if not a definite exception, since LBJ had VP experience, same for Nixon in both of his elections.

FWIW.

GHWB in 1992 already had "d... (Below threshold)

GHWB in 1992 already had "decades" of Washington experience. He was a Congressman from Texas; after losing to Lloyd Bentsen for Senate in 1970, he was named Chairman of the RNC, and later Special Envoy to China, by Nixon. He was appointed DCI by Ford, and served 8 years as Reagan's Veep.

Nixon and Kennedy had precisely the same amount of "Washington experience" in terms of years: both came to Congress in 1947 and were serving there as Representatives, Senators, or Vice President through the 1960 election.

This analysis of the "outsider" phenomenon should be merged with the "executive experience" phenomenon as well. Only twice have we elected sitting Senators and only once a sitting Representative. We elect Governors and Generals most of the time, although Vice Presidents often enter the mix through succession. Only John Adams and GHWB won the office after serving two full terms as Veep. Jefferson won after one Veep term, beating the incumbent Adams. T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, and LBJ all won terms of their own after assuming the office by the death of the President.

Yes Jay, the country really... (Below threshold)
bob smith:

Yes Jay, the country really wants change from this status quo. Thats why they elect what they perceive as Washington outsiders. The country does not like the business as usual Washington insiders who are corrupt to the core.




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