Presidential Qualifications

This morning, I voted in a Presidential Primary Election for the 6th time in my life. Voting is never a responsibility to take lightly, and because you're voting for a real person, you never get a completely flawless candidate that you couldn't say anything against, but at least this time, I think I got to vote for someone I was pretty excited about.

I think just about everyone is looking for a leader when they're considering who to vote for, someone they are inspired by, someone they think relects their values and priorities, a leader who appears to genuinely care about them. Each candidate is selling the country on their vision of where the country should go and what its priorities should be, and for many of us, we're just trying to select the candidate whose vision best matches up with our own.

But there's more to being President than just selling us on a vision. The President must be able to both translate their vision and values into policy that we actaully achieve that vision, and they must be able to work with Congress and within Constitutional constraints to craft perhaps imperfect compromises that help get us there. A vision is nothing but an empty sales pitch if you can't turn it into reality, and I want a President who understands this and, moreover, relishes the challenge.

Furthermore, what's often lost in our evaluation of Presidents is that much of their job is as a chief administrator of an enormously sprawling federal organization. There are all sorts of skills required to effectively manage this organization, and many of them have little relation to the skills needed to win a policy debate or inspire a crowd of supporters. The President must understand how to make a bureacracy actually work to achieve things, and they must be able to attract and retain talented people to help administer each department. Otherwise, the best policies will languish at the hands of ineffective administration.

Finally, a President must understand America's place in the world, and how the world is interconnected. How America's interests cannot be served by focusing entirely on America, and how we can be harmed by external forces beyond our direct control. You cannot sever America's economy from the world economy, just as you cannot sever America's environment from the world's environment, and sometimes pursuing American interests may involve spending money and resources on people, businesses and countries that are not American.

I won't tell you who I voted for, and if you've already decided who you think the best candidate is, I'm sure I won't be able to convince you otherwise. But I would ask you to consider each candidate along each of these dimensions, and try and understand the consequences of being more comptetent in some areas and less competent in others. The American Presidency is an enormous, almost impossibly complex and important job, and when we reduce our choice to simply a matter of policy preference -- or worse, where the candidate stands on some artificial progressive<->conservative spectrum -- we ignore many of the most important qualifications for the role, and make less informed decisions as a result.

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