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The Presidential Peters' Principle

Ralph Peters has a useful meditation on the character of modern presidents in his New York Post column today.  Sample:

Wouldn't it be a fine thing to have another president whose first serious taste of failure didn't come in the Oval Office?  We don't need presidents with exclusive academic credentials. We need presidents who know what it's like to work for a living. We need presidents who understand average Americans. We need presidents for whom the White House isn't just the ultimate résumé entry.

Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 2 Comments

It is a strange article by Peters. To the extent that one would want the President to have significant experience in the private sector, fine, but the stuff about failure doesn't really work. Dubya, Clinton and Bush all know was failure is like. They all lost elections before becoming President. Obama lost an especially ugly campaign in which I remember reading that his opponent questioned Obama's racial authenticity. As experiences of failure go, its not up there with Truman, but it is a least equal to the ending of Reagan's career as a movie and tv star - which still left Reagan independently wealthy and nationally famous.

The other stuff doesn't really work either. Peters credits Eisenhower, Truman and Reagan for being decisive and having tenacity because of their background. Well Bush was decisive. sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. He admits that George W. Bush showed tenacity as President.. And one has to take a selective view of the Obama administration to argue that he is indecisive. On state-run health care, Obama has been more decisive and tenacious than I would like.

I would have it that Col. Peters is mistaken in several assessments, as is Pete.

1. We have had not three "great Presidents" but two: Mr. Truman and Gen. Eisenhower.

2. One ought to assess educational achievements against the norm of the cohort in question. Ronald Reagan completed high school at a time (1928) when most of the population between the ages of 14 and 18 was not enrolled in high school. He then completed college. Reagan was from a small town bottom-of-the-middle class family more impecunious than many and perhaps most wage-earning families. Tertiary education was not typically an expectation or aspiration of that social stratum at that time, and the catastrophic economic decline which occurred during the years Reagan was in school made it even less so. (And have you had a look at college entrance exams from that era?). The same applies in spades to Truman. Truman completed high school in 1902; his brother left school at about 12. My home town had a population of about 150,000 at that time and one (1) public secondary school, which was all that was needed. These men were academic achievers above and beyond 85% or 90% of their contemporaries. Eisenhower and his many brothers were even more so.

3. Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan are differentiated from Obama by actual executive experience; from Obama and Clinton by time in uniform; from Obama and Clinton by having had a long run of years following trades other than electoral politics; and from Obama, Bush, and Clinton by having spent all of their formative years (in the case of Truman and Eisenhower) or at least some of their formative years (in the case of Reagan) during an era in which the following obtained:

a. Mundane life was shot through with insecurities and discomforts which have been forgotten (quotidienne dental pain, an absence of aspirin or antibiotics, an absence of refrigeration, urban air choked with coal dust and urban streets strewn with horse manure, an absence of air conditioning, standards of modesty which required men and women to be covered in layers and layers of cloth regardless of weather, sixty hour work weeks as the norm).

b. A vigorous honor culture obtained in the male population, and a sense of the masculine vocation maintained and promoted.

c. Emotional self-expression and the exhibit of scandal was discouraged for all.

4. I cannot figure how the loss of an election campaign at the age of 39 is comparable with losing your business to creditors, being humiliated in a business failure, slogging it out in the fields for eleven years in service to your father and in vicarious penance for his failed commercial schemes, or putting up with a mean and violent drunk in your home for 22 years.

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