Gongol.com Archives: June 2023

Brian Gongol

June 2, 2023

The United States of America Bring in the governors

Every four years, ego, delusion, or a sense of destiny compels more than a few people to decide that the time is now for them to step forward and offer up their incomparable talents for the good of leading the nation. One of them becomes President. ■ In the most sensible scenario, American voters would insist on a prequalification beyond the basic Constitutional requirements. For two reasons, one obvious and the other considerably less so, we generally ought to draw those candidates from the ranks of current and former governors. ■ The obvious reason is that there is no simulator program for the Oval Office. You can learn to make an emergency landing in an airliner that way, but the 3 a.m. phone call is harder to practice. But despite the obvious differences, the role of the governor -- not a CEO, not a Senator, not a celebrity -- is the closest thing we have to that of the President. The Presidency is bigger, of course, but the difference is more of scale than of form. As with airline pilots, practice matters. ■ The less-obvious reason is the value of a screening mechanism. Candidates naturally tout their successes, but it's more important to screen out people who fail under stress. Governors have been toppled just in the last two decades by unpopular decision-making, sexual harassment, and naked corruption. Screening out those governors before they could become candidates for the Presidency quite likely served a very useful public purpose. ■ Some of our best Presidents, of course, were never governors; Washington and Lincoln both came to office without being state-level chief executives first. But it's likely that anyone who went on to be a successful President would have cleared a term in office as a governor if voters had expected them to do that first. Eisenhower and Bush (41) undoubtedly had what it would have taken to be good governors en route to the Presidency. But four years (or more) in a governor's chair might have exposed the shortcomings in others, like Harding or Nixon, who ultimately failed the public in higher office. ■ Successes are important, and it's worthwhile to expect a successful candidate to have some victories to show off. But discerning voters ought to demand that candidates expose themselves to big opportunities to fail, and that requires time facing challenges and temptations that are hard to mimic at a scale close enough to the Presidency to matter. But expecting ambitious people to take a chance to fail before running for the nation's highest office seems like a smart test for our own common good.

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