April 6, 2011

The Self-Executing Playground President

Hatched by Dafydd

In our previous "Playground President" post, I noted Steven Hayward's boosterism of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI, 96%) and suggested that Ryan might well be the next playground presidential candidate. In response, infamous commenter Milhouse -- straight from his stunning success at persuading Patterico, the Unwary Godmother of conservative legal blogdom, that H.R. 1255 was indeed constitutional after all -- objected to Hayward's suggestion that Ryan should run for the presidency.

Our three related posts comprise:

  1. The Playground President -- in which we defined it
  2. Found - a Playground Presidential Candidate? -- in which we did find it
  3. The Self-Executing Playground President -- you're readin' it!

Milhouse's argument is that Paul Ryan has as yet no significant administrative experience; his comment (Milhouse's, not Ryan's):

Ryan has one huge flaw: he has no executive experience. What he needs to do is spend this term and the next making headlines as "Mr Budget", then either go for Speaker or else take a job in the administration elected in 2012, perhaps Treasury Secretary or OMB director; or else, if Scott Walker decides not to run for a second term in Wisconsin (having perhaps been lured to Washington), Ryan should run for that. Once he's got a term or two as governor or cabinet secretary under his belt, he should start thinking about the presidency.

Now first, please note that I did not endorse Ryan for president. Neither did I knock the idea; I expressed no opinion. I said that Hayward had persuaded me that Ryan would actually shake up the presidential race and had the best chance of being elected of any of the candidates I've seen so far. I likewise agree with Hayward that Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty are the only two others that impress me as potential winners against Barack H. Obama... so far. (This is more a response to commenter Mr. Michael than to Milhouse.)

But let's dive into Milhouse's objection; does Paul Ryan (or any candidate) truly need prior executive experience to (a) be elected, and (b) make a success of his presidency? We can start with the historical record.

From 1900 until just before the 2008 election, there were eighteen elected presidents; four of them (22%) had no significant executive experience -- that is, not the president, nor a governor, general, or cabinet secretary -- the first time they were elected.

(Note that I do not consider having been Vice President to be "significant executive experience": The office is undefined, other than post-mortem and breaking ties in the Senate; and the V.P. does not have a huge staff to manage.)

Non-executive presidents, 1900-2008:

  • Warren Harding
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Richard Nixon
  • George H.W. Bush (he was Director of Central Intelligence for less than one year)

Successful non-executive Chief Executives were slightly more common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; of the twenty presidential electees (Millard Filmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A. Arthur were never elected president), those without significant prior executive experience numbered five (25%):

  • John Adams
  • Franklin Pierce
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • James Garfield
  • Benjamin Harrison

Looking over the list, the proportion of good, bad, mixed, and indifferent presidents seems about the same among those with previous executive experience and those without: Arguably, our greatest president, Lincoln, had none, while arguably our worst (until now), Jimmy Carter, was a successful governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan (executive) was a great president; while Nixon (none) was great in some ways and terrible in others. Woodrow Wilson (executive) was a dreadful tyrant who tried to remake America, much as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave has; Adams (none) turned out to be a mediocre administrator and a weak leader. There seems little correlation between previous executive experience and competence, let alone greatness.

But let's get to cases on our current president, Barack H. Obama (none). Would anybody here argue that the worst thing about Obama is his lack of administrative ability? Good grief!

I believe the worst thing about him is his ideological blindness, his mad desire to create a hellish utopia, his reckless foreign policy, his hatred of Capitalism, his willingness to lie to the American people in order to accomplish his government-aggrandizing schemes, and his seeming belief that all the money belongs to the government, which lets us borrow some of it for a while (if we're good).

But we've seen all those attributes before in presidents with tremendous executive experience... for example, Franklin Roosevelt, who served three years as governor of America's largest state before being elected President of the United States. And he was as bad or worse in 1944, after having served for three terms as POTUS. (Talk about your executive experience!)

In terms of the epigram of the fox and the hedgehog, by the great, ancient Greek poet Archilochus (680-645 BC) -- "the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" -- I think we would have to say that Paul Ryan is a hedgehog; the one big thing he knows about is the economy and how to rescue it; while Obama is a fox, but a foolish one: He knows many little things, but most of them ain't so.

Not only can a hedgehog candidate easily defeat a fox incumbent, if his "one big thing" resonates with the voters and has sufficient gravitas to matter; but a hedgehog president can wreak profound wonders, if circumstances give him time and breathing room. Again, think of Reagan, whose two big things (a double-humped, bactrian hedgehog) were shattering the Soviet Union and rebuilding the American economy.

It would be nice if Ryan had had some previous executive experience; but if he was to wait until 2016, his moment might have passed -- either because a previous president already solved it, or because four more years of Obamunism will have utterly vaporized American economic exceptionalism.

I would ten thousands times rather see President Paul Ryan than President B.O.; and I would at least five times rather see President Paul Ryan than Chairman Paul Ryan; the former brings far more "welly" to the grand goal of gestating the Ryan recovery plan.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 6, 2011, at the time of 2:10 AM


The following hissed in response by: Beldar

I think Ryan is the real deal. Unfortunately, I can't see how he can both fight the fight that needs to be fought over the FY2012 budget -- in which he is the indispensable man -- and simultaneously do what must be done to prepare for early GOP primary states.

That would not be an impediment to him becoming an extremely strong Veep nominee, however.

The above hissed in response by: Beldar [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2011 7:18 PM

The following hissed in response by: Beldar

I'm eager to be persuaded I'm wrong about that primary thing, too. Dafydd?

The above hissed in response by: Beldar [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2011 7:20 PM

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