Nobody is "qualified" to be president

Russ Mitchell speaks with CBS News political analyst John Dickerson about the growing speculation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is on the verge of jumping into the GOP field of presidential candidates, despite months of strong denials.

Will Chris Christie join GOP field?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may jump into the GOP field of presidential candidates, despite months of strong denials

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel Farber.

Chris Christie is deciding soon if he wants to enter the 2012 race for the presidency. This is after his weight became the talk of the town, driven by columns from the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and Bloomberg View's Michael Kinsley, who wrote, "Look, I'm sorry, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cannot be president: He is just too fat. Maybe, if he runs for president and we get to know him, we will overlook this awkward issue because we are so impressed with the way he stands up to teachers' unions. But we shouldn't overlook it -- unless he goes on a diet and shows he can stick to it."

Certainly the health of a candidate should be factored into a vote - but Christie's girth shouldn't be an issue. There have been plenty of portly presidents. President William Howard Taft, for example, wasn't exactly lean.

So what qualifies anyone to be president, other than getting elected? The United States is not a company, like IBM or GE, in which a small board of directors picks a CEO, based on their experience and track record, who can generate profits, shareholder value and manage a $100 billion-plus business and a few hundred-thousand employees.

The U.S. government doesn't post a job description with minimum requirements. But if the job were posted on the government's website, it might go something like this:

The United States is looking for a results-driven executive with minimum 10 years experience in developing and managing strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources, homeland security, domestic policy, military affairs, foreign affairs, economic theory, budget & financing, public works and healthcare and education reform.

More specifically, the applicant must have experience in managing large enterprise (2 million employees), a substantial budget ($3.5 trillion), debt service ($14.3 trillion), a deeply complex and troubled economy with unemployment in some states and sectors in the mid-teens, two unpopular war fronts, a fleet of terrorist killing drones, dangerous frenemies like Pakistan and hordes of ankle-biting lobbyists and legislators.

Must be computer literate and fluent in English and Spanish. Chinese and Arabic are a plus. Must be natural-born citizen and willing to work flexible hours. Salary ($400,000 per year) is not negotiable, but housing, food, travel, security services and other amenities are provided. The position also includes a taxable lifetime annual pension as well as staff and office allowances, travel expenses, protection services upon exit from the job. Lucrative book contract, speaking fees and corporate board seats also available.

Based on those relatively straightforward requirements, no one seems to be qualified to be president. Which may be why presidents are sometimes better in their second term, when they're focused less on figuring out the job and more on carving out their place in history. 

The first term is half on-the-job training and half campaigning to get chance to apply some of what was learned in the first term to the job. Of course, learning how to be president is typically more about survival--getting re-elected--than pushing for bold shifts that reshape government policy.

President Obama's resume coming into the job included less that three years as a U.S senator and seven years as a state senator in Illinois, in addition to his years as a practicing attorney, law lecturer and grassroots organizer.

Christie, who worked as lawyer, county representative and lobbyist, was U.S. attorney for New Jersey for six years before becoming governor of the state in 2010 -- giving him less than two years of executive experience.

Rick Perry has run the big state of Texas since 2000 -- and he's done so for 16 years. Before his terms as governor, he was in the Texas legislature and elected Agriculture Commission and Lieutenant Governor. He has spent most of his life in politics.

Herman Cain's credential is that he has no experience in politics or Washington D.C. -- which could be considered either a positive or a negative. He was a chief executive Godfather Pizza and CEO of the National Restaurant Association - a trade group and lobby organization for the restaurant industry. 

Mitt Romney spent a term as Massachusetts governor and managed the 2002 Winter Olympics, in addition to having a successful career in private equity. He has maintained the Mr. Obama is in over his head when it comes to fixing the economy. 

George W. Bush was governor of Texas for two terms before becoming president, and worked on his father's presidential campaigns. He also working in the oil industry and was a managing partner for a major league baseball team.

Bill Clinton, a political savant served as the Arkansas Attorney General and two terms as governor prior to his two terms as president. Like Mr. Obama, Clinton chose healthcare reform in his first term as a cause, and suffered for it.

Ronald Reagan was governor of California for two terms and president of the Screen Actors Guild prior to become president. He combined his executive experience with his TV-honed communications skills to win two terms. 

John F. Kennedy served as a Congressman for six years and as a senator for seven year before defeating Richard Nixon in 1960. Even with his experience in political office he authorized the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion.

The governors, business executives and junior senators in the 2012 race have little experience in sending men and women into battle, catastrophic economic collapses, unstable nuclear nations, unpredictable dictators, extremely combustible situations on the world stage and getting second-guessed by everyone.

Being a successful politician clearly doesn't equate with having the best qualifications. There aren't really any jobs that can adequately prepare someone for Commander in Chief. Perhaps Hillary Clinton as first lady and presidential candidate is the exception, but she was knocked out of the 2008 race in the wave that brought the less experienced Barack Obama into office. 

Like many presidents before him, Mr. Obama, who campaigned as a kind of Washington, D.C. outsider and on changing the way Washington works, has relied on a coterie of experienced Washington hands and military advisors to help navigate the duties of the presidency. So far, his goal to change the way Washington works and create a more collegial atmosphere in Congress hasn't been successful.

Every president is handed a different set of cards to play. Mr. Obama got an economy on the brink of meltdown, two wars, persistent joblessness and tough opposition in the Tea Party. He is still learning how to play to his hand, hoping to earn another four years in the Oval Office, shifting his strategy based on circumstances on the ground and learnings from his roller-coaster ride since he took office.

The GOP candidates in the hunt for the nomination to oppose Mr. Obama in November 2012 will all claim that they are the most qualified to serve as president. In reality, none of them are truly prepared for what comes with the job. It's a matter of hoping they have good enough management skill and judgement, and the stamina, to keep the ship of state afloat in treacherous waters.   

  • Dan Farber On Twitter»

    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.

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