Looking ahead to the looming 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton seems to be the front runner for the Democrats but the Republicans have no clear pick.
After President Barack Obama’s lack of experience in the political sphere – serving for only two years in the Senate before his presidential campaign – some conservatives are making experience a must-have for the next GOP candidate.
But if time translates to know-how, then Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran would technically be one of the most qualified Republican candidates, with over 35 years of uninterrupted time in the Senate and an additional six years in the House of Representatives.
Republican Senator Thad Cochran responds to a reporter's question at a Cochran for Senate rally at the Mississippi War Memorial in Jackson, Miss., Monday, June 23, 2014. Cochran faces state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, on Tuesday in a runoff for the GOP nomination for senate. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Yet Cochran’s questionable campaigning tactics in the Mississippi primary, coupled with his “accidental” appearance at a Senate Democrat luncheon, raises the question: Has he become another career politician with reelection at the top of his priority list?
Cochran brought in outside help to beat down the other Republican candidate. He would rather win the runoff and stay in office than let the people choose who they want to run in the general election.
It seems, at least in this case, that more time in office weakens a candidate’s leadership.
If not time in office, then what is important to look for in a candidate? One of the most sure-fire ways to find out is to look at the qualifications of arguably our nation’s greatest leaders: our Founding Fathers.
There were 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 29 of whom served in the Continental Army. Of all 55 men, 13 were merchants, businessmen, or shippers, 12 were farmers, three made their money from economic endeavors, two were scientists, one was a minister and several others studied theology. Less than one-sixth of all delegates earned livelihood from political office. Six-term incumbent senators were not needed to lay the framework for our country.
George Washington. Photo Credit: MountVernon.org
The Founding Fathers also opposed political careerism. When representatives and senators rely on an elected office for their income, campaigning for re-election will be a constant priority. In present day, most of a politician’s day is spent campaigning. They are spending their time working to secure their job, not representing the people.
Another example of the damaging effects of political careerism is former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took a pro-immigration stance, possibly to placate voters across the aisle. Cantor was also accused by his district of blowing off constituents to advance his career in the capital, likely the reason for his shocking defeat in the primaries. His downfall serves as a reminder that one can’t play politics and still be an effective leader.
What has become modern political tradition completely flies in the face of the early-American mantra of “up or out.” This meant that after two terms, you were either moved up to higher office or out of politics and back to private life. If the voting population doesn’t think you were presidential material after the first few years, another couple decades probably won’t change their minds.
The Congressional salaries in the early years of our country also speak to the idea that involvement in politics was meant to be a temporary, almost volunteer, position. Up until 1855 the average representative or senator made $6 per day, and only on days when Congress was in session. If you adjust for inflation, that’s today’s equivalent of about $10 an hour. (The same as my pay rate this summer as an intern.)
The low salary reflected the idea that political office was a public service, or volunteer position, not a career opportunity. Republicans shouldn’t be seeking a candidate who will treat the presidency like a job – rather, someone who will approach this office as a duty and service to the nation.
Consider also the difference in work ethic: There has been a decline in the amount of time Congressmen even spend on the floor, or working on legislation in committees. Last year Congress was in session 113 days – less than one-third of the year. On those days, elected officials typically spend more time on the phone with donors or at fund-raising events, than they do with constituents or on legislation.
None of the Republican hopefuls have the right credentials. That’s not to say there is no hope for them in 2016; it just means that the party is looking in the wrong place.
George Washington was asked to lead the Continental Army and later asked to be president, a post that he reluctantly accepted because he felt that his country needed him. Looking back on his accounts, the thing that weighed heaviest on our first president’s mind was setting up America for a great future.
After serving, Washington retired from the political sphere and returned to private life. He didn’t govern for the money either: During the war Washington took no pay and wrote personal checks to soldiers. He privately funded a good deal of the conflict against the British.
The Founding Fathers did not beg to be elected, cling to their post for decades or let polls stop them from being effective leaders. Most importantly they never forgot that they were public servants and not above the law. These men did not have experience in political office, but served honorably leading someplace else, be it a business, a church or the Continental Army.
A good candidate does not need to advertise; people should decide who would make a great leader, not the other way around.
Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, turns back to the audience as he puts his notes back in his pocket after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
While lacking political experience, Dr. Ben Carson served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins – meaning he had leadership experience in a well-respected hospital. He has knowledge of the medical field, which could lead to meaningful health care reform. As a surgeon, Carson can calmly make careful decisions under pressure.
Dr. Carson is not a career politician and he certainly isn’t campaigning. In interviews he has said that “I have not felt called to run” but “I certainly can’t just turn my back on my nation that is in so much trouble.”
We haven’t seen that sentiment since the early 19th century. Back then it was considered improper to seek out the presidency.
This nation needs a citizen, called on by the people, to serve – just as George Washington did. We need someone who can heal the damage done by political bickering amongst seasoned Congressmen. We don’t need a career politician; we need a doctor.
Cole Ellenbogen is a student at Syracuse University. You can follow him on twitter @Cole_Ellenbogen, or contact him at Ellenbogencole@gmail.com
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