Politics & Policy

Executive Authority

Bush has the right experience.

What is the Bush team waiting for? Is the election really going to end without a Republican ad comparing the two tickets on the question of executive experience?

Political scientists have long debated whether being a governor or a senator was better preparation for the presidency. Senators are bound to pick up knowledge of foreign policy and defense matters. But governors have actually run something–they’ve lead thousands of people and worked with quarreling agencies to try to make things happen.

In this election, voters most of all want a ticket that will keep them safe. They must choose between two sets of men with very different kinds of experience. After four years as president, Bush knows international affairs in a way that Senator Kerry cannot; he has also been a governor and run a private corporation. Cheney has run the White House staff, the Defense Department, and a major corporation. To head his security agencies Bush surrounded himself with men who had previously been responsible for big operations–take-charge, reassuring sorts like Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Tom Ridge.

Senator Kerry has never run anything much larger than a Swift boat. And he did not pick a running mate with executive experience to balance his woeful lack thereof. He instead picked someone like himself–a man who took his rhetorical skills from the courtroom to the Senate.

Why don’t we see more pictures of Bush giving instructions to his cabinet members? Why don’t we have an ad telling voters how many people have worked under Kerry and Edwards during stops in their professional careers and how many have worked under Bush and Cheney. Then ask the Democrats why they think they can run a war on terror better than their opponents when they have yet to run much of anything at all.

Despite their fawning, the background media stories about how curious Kerry is and about how intelligent he is tell us more subtly what he is not–decisive. You can’t be a good executive if you are not decisive. The president does talk a lot about the need to make “tough decisions” but the emphasis is always on tough. It is also important to remind the public that it’s important to be able to make decisions. Senator Kerry’s waffling on Iraq shows that he can’t.

Along the way, most successful wars have been filled with criticisms of their conduct. Can’t voters be reminded of this? Can’t they be reminded that when thousands of consequential decisions have been made, you can always pick out some to criticize, but that it’s usually best to elect people who have shown they can make consequential decisions rather than those who have never had to?

Send the Johns back to the Senate where they can embellish their rhetorical skills. Let’s reelect the executives.

Steven E. Rhoads is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and author of the recently published Taking Sex Differences Seriously.


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