OPINION: The presidency is not an entry-level job

A person in a graduation cap and gown looks at a poster of Uncle Sam that says "looking for a president, apply today!"
Graphic by Elaine Yang

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson visited Pomona College on Nov. 6 to talk about her campaign. 

An acclaimed lecturer, activist and author of four No. 1 New York Times bestselling books, Williamson is running for the Democratic nomination and promoting an ambitious vision for the nation. Her website indicates that her purpose is to create “a new political possibility in America — where … our democracy once more becomes a thing about which we can all feel proud” and “to end an aberrational chapter in American history and begin a new one.”

When Williamson was questioned by student moderators during the event about her lack of political experience prior to her presidential run, she doubled-down on why she believes she’s qualified for the job.

Referring back to the framers of the Constitution, she contended that they hadn’t specified any form of government experience as a necessary condition to run for president precisely because they intended to leave it up to every generation to define what the skillset is needed for president. 

She quoted former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement that the primary job of the president is moral leadership and that the administrative part is second. 

I thoroughly disagree with this contention and think such arguments that seek to discredit the value of training and experience in politics are dangerous. 

The democratic ideal that everyone should be able to be president is something we should aspire to make true in any country. However, the notion that anyone can be president as their first public office job is not. 

Any profession values experience as an individual works their way up the career ladder. We educate ourselves, go to university, train through internships and work different jobs within the same field to develop a robust skillset and be able to aim for the position we aspire to. We don’t just start off at the top. 

Most jobs require a certain amount of relevant experience to get an offer, or even apply for them. We should apply the same standard to the presidency.

There’s a place in public life for the Williamsons, and their visions and ideas can bring a lot. But they should start by selling their ideas and enacting their visions at the local level before making grand claims for the Oval Office. 

It seems like Williamson shared this view in the past, since her first try at politics was an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014.

Williamson is not alone — currently we are seeing more and more candidates running for office in spite of a glaring lack of political experience and even running because of it. 

In a 2017 NPR article about President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office and his “entry-level” presidency, political historian Richard Norton Smith made the case that Trump and others of his kind are proof that that view of “politics” among the public has gotten worse and that this poses a serious threat to the nation’s democracy. 

“Drain-the-swamp” feelings and the contention that many current politicians are inefficient are only one part of this decline in public trust; the connotation of the word politics itself now refers to something nefarious and evil.

Today, a growing number of candidates consider it to be a selling point to campaign against politics. As Smith points out, we’ve reached a point where “people get elected to office by denouncing politics.” 

However, it isn’t just candidates coming up with the idea that political experience is irrelevant to proper execution of public office: It’s American people themselves. 

Just think back to the aftermath of the 2018 Golden Globes, when Oprah Winfrey, after making an inspiring speech about female empowerment when she was honored by the Cecil B. DeMille Award, led Twitter to explode with messages calling for her to run for president and hashtags like #Oprah2020.

Being frustrated at the way politics is currently being handled, or mishandled, can be understood. But, the current response to such frustration is dangerous. 

The solution to the perceived problem of career politicians not living up to their promises isn’t to reject politicians and political experience altogether. 

Experience is valuable. Democracy will fail if we get to a point in our society where we don’t recognize that specific people who’ve been trained in public policy and have expertise in this department are better-equipped to respond to large-scale problems spanning an entire federation than political newcomers. 

It’s also worth mentioning that beyond the argument that a profession in politics is one that requires training, the presidency in itself is an extremely complex position to hold, even with prior experience. 

In May 2018, The Atlantic ran an article entitled “The Hardest Job in the World,” describing the countless prerogatives that fall upon the president’s shoulders and exposing how the position has expanded over the decades to become something that’s arguably almost unworkable by a single person.

Considering the overwhelming amount of challenges and responsibilities that come with the office and the high expectations placed upon its holder, the nation should expect a considerable amount of political experience before electing anyone to the position of president.

Williamson made the claim during her campus event that the country wasn’t in need of a political mechanist but of a political visionist and that Trump’s main problem was not his lack of experience but his lack of vision. 

Actually, Trump himself — the only U.S. President ever with no government or military experience prior to being elected — has (unexpectedly) acknowledged during major setbacks faced by his administration that he lacked the appropriate experience to craft policy. 

In February 2017, during and after the GOP’s short-lived bill attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump voiced his own surprise at the difficulty of his job, saying thatnobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

We’ve already seen an example of what happens when a political novice is put in charge of the hardest job in the country — we don’t need a second confirmation.

Megan Chourreau-Lyon is a Franco-British Pitzer College exchange student who’s in the final year of her political science bachelor’s degree and would like to believe that the degree she is working towards will be valued in the future. 

Facebook Comments