This week prominent pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina threw their hats in the proverbial ring as candidates for president of the United States.
No sooner had they made those announcements than many pundits in the media began tossing those hats back out by proclaiming that both Carson and Fiorina lack the experience, money, and organization to mount a serious presidential campaign.
All this begs a simple question.
Do you have to be a career politician or a member of the political class as Dr. Carson describes it to be a candidate for president?
If you do then perhaps that explains a lot about the state of our nation today.
Over the years, I’ve worked in many political realms. Given my political involvement, I’ve seen many people (some quite wonderful—don’t get me wrong) who’ve risen through the political system to really impressive positions both elected and appointed. Do I think that qualifies them or makes them more likely to do a great job running the government than a doctor or a neurosurgeon?
Let me give a generic example. Before I begin, let me categorically state that under no circumstances am I pointing to any of my friends or former colleagues when I lay out this example. It’s fairly universal. In fact, open up the latest copy of Politics in America and you’ll see the following scenario described in biographies on nearly every single page.
John Smith is an idealistic and enthusiastic member of his College Republicans/Democrats organization. While in college seeking his Liberal Arts degree, John volunteers on several local political campaigns including a gubernatorial race. Lucky for John, his candidate wins. Afterwards, John is offered and takes a job working for the governor as a member of his staff. John does this and later, while still in his twenties, he sees that there is an open primary for a county position in his area. He decides to run and wins. Not long afterwards, John’s State Assemblyman/Representative retires and John seeks and wins that position as well. When he’s in his late thirties or forties, either the timing or political opportunity arises for John to run for a position as the United States Congressman in his district, State Senator, or perhaps even a lower statewide office. Later, in his early forties, John runs for Governor or United States Senator.
Throughout all of this, letters addressed to John always begin “Honorable” and he’s revered as a statesman for his “long career of public service.” In fact, if you carefully reviewed John’s resume, this is his only career. Since graduating from college he’s either never or rarely earned a paycheck that didn’t come from one constituency and by extension taxpayer after another.
While an interesting record of “public service” it certainly begs the question as to why this resume is any better than that of a world renowned surgeon, writer, and philanthropist or corporate CEO. In fact, if you dig a little deeper and think about it, you might even laugh at the idea that this could even be possible.
Unfortunately, we currently have a system that well rewards the clever young college student who toils in the trenches of a political campaign but later scoffs at the bright mind that took a different path other than that of elected official for a period of time.
And while we may not like hearing how hard or difficult it is to defeat the career politician, it simply remains a fact that this is still the case.
How do I know this? Because we haven’t done it yet.
That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.
Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina may just change this pattern. If either of them does, it will certainly give pause to some of the young campaign workers out there currently hoping to follow in the footsteps of today’s career politicians and eventually take up residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.