Book cover via Amazon Of all the talk from the recent political conventions, two themes really struck me: the battle over who is the biggest "outsider" and the question of presidential qualifications.
Candidates seem to take it for granted that being a political outsider is a good thing. Since the public has an incredibly low opinion of Congress, the idea is to boast that you have nothing to do with Washington. (Neither ticket can honestly make this claim, by the way. McCain and Biden have each been in the Senate for decades). But why is a lack of association with Washington a bad thing?
I just finished reading a book called The Dark Side by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. It chronicles a record of shocking Constitutional abuses by people who did not know the law. President Bush bragged that he, too, was a Washington-outsider. He called Washington a "culture of lawyers." He mistrusted lawyers -- even about legal issues so much so that in his administration, Mayer writes, "neither the President, the Vice president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, not the National Security Adviser was a lawyer" (54).
Since no one knew the law, the author argues, no one felt restrained from ordering torture or expanding presidential powers. On nearly every important matter the President deferred to his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, (a real Washington INSIDER, who was President Ford's chief of staff) who knew how the system worked and how to enforce his ideology. Nothing -- good or bad -- can get done in Washington without a knowledge of how Washington works.
Whether or not you favor an insider or an outsider, what exactly are the minimum qualifications of being President of the United States? Here's what the US Constitution says. Is it enough? After all, plumbers, teachers, doctors, secretaries must all meet minimum standards in order to be hired. What do you think a president's resume should look like?