First, a little quiz. Below you will find a list of qualifications for the highest office in the land. Which ones are actual, constitutionally mandated qualifications and which are not?
1. Must be a natural born citizen of the United States. TRUE
2. Must be a male. FALSE
3. Must have attained the age of 35. TRUE
4. Must have resided in the U.S. for the past 14 years. TRUE
5. Must not already have served two terms as President. TRUE
That's it. That is the sum total of what our constitution has to say on the subject. Our founders cast a wide net indeed.
Ok, next, let's go over some of the other non-constitutional qualifications that have grown up over time. Some of these are in fact excellent requirements for potential Presidents, others not so much.
1. Must be a person of unimpeachable moral character.
We Americans desperately want to believe this one. Many of us insist on only supporting a cross between Andy Taylor and George Bailey. Who among us wouldn't feel better if all of our Presidents had Jimmy Carter's ethical core, Harry Truman's family life and George Washington's character? Well, the trouble is, moral fiber doesn't necessarily translate into great leadership. There never has lived anyone who possessed a more finely calibrated moral compass than my mother, but she would have made a perfectly dreadful President. My mother's unimpeachable moral character wouldn't have saved her from the demands of the office. She lacked the education and life experiences required to effectively lead something as large and unwieldy as a nation. (although she could have whipped up a batch of homemade biscuits that would have had the French Ambassador eating out of her hand!) Sure, being a morally admirable person would surely help in the Oval Office, but the history of the job is full of highly effective men who weren't exactly Boy Scouts...Thomas Jefferson and FDR spring to mind.
2. Must be a lawyer.
At first glance it would appear to be true since 25 of our 44 Presidents have been lawyers. But, in point of fact, those who haven't been lawyers form an impressive list, among them...George Washington, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes. It might interest you to know that we the people have seen fit to elect three school teachers, three farmers and a newspaper publisher to the highest office in the land.
3. Must have government experience.
Probably a good idea, but not necessarily FEDERAL government experience. Most Americans place FDR and Ronald Reagan at or near the top of best Presidents, many also add Bill Clinton to that list. All three men were governors first, with Reagan and Clinton having no experience on the federal government stage. There's something to be said for having the executive experience of actually knowing how to run something, how to delegate, how to build consensus, etc..something that being either a CEO or a governor provides. On the other hand, being a mere Senator offers zero practical governing experience since a Senator's job is essentially to talk.
4. Must have foreign policy experience.
......I guess so.
5. Must have served in the armed forces.
There was a time when military service was an unspoken requirement for the presidency, especially after World War II. After that war, we elected nine consecutive Presidents who had served in WWII. Not until Bill Clinton did the string end. In all, of the 45 Presidents we have elected, fully 33 of them were former military. To be fair, it should be pointed out that FDR didn't serve, for obvious reasons, and did pretty well. Although the four Presidents we elected before FDR were all without military experience and none of them were exactly Hall of Fame material. So, who knows?
6. Must agree with me on the ALL-CONSUMING issue that is most important to me.
Each of us has that one big thing that we are passionate about when it comes to politics. For some it might be term limits, or taxes, immigration, or abortion. For others it might be Obamacare, drug laws, gay marriage, or the catastrophe that is the designated hitter rule. If you fall into this category, you're what is known as a single-issue voter. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) but, you need to understand that your big issue will occupy your new President for approximately ten minutes of his four year term. Then he or she will turn their attention to lots of other stuff. So, good luck with your pet issue.
7. Must be a member of the same church denomination as me.
As far as I know, only three of our Presidents were Southern Baptists...Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, a decidedly mixed record for this strategy. We Americans have been rather even handed in the distribution of denominations. There have been two Congregationalists, three Disciples of Christ, four Methodists, eight Presbyterians and a whopping twelve Episcopalians. For good measure we threw a couple of Quakers in the mix, four Unitarians, one Catholic and five with no denominational affiliation whatsoever, amoung them Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. So, I'm thinking that we should discount religious affiliation when shopping for a President....since we aren't tasked with electing a preacher.
Here are a few more things to consider when making this decision, although what follows might be considered a bit partisan, since they are personal to me.
MAKE SURE YOUR NEXT PRESIDENT DOESN'T HAVE:
1. A criminal record.
2. An annoying facial tick.
3. Chronic acne.
4. A really irritating spouse.
5. A lot of inherited money.
6. A lot of shady friends.
7. A history of ill-health
8. An embarrassing, poorly qualified running mate.
9. A green card.
10. An infatuation with Taylor Swift.
That's all I've got, but I hope that this has helped serve as a check-list of sorts. The truth is that whomever we elect as our President in 2016 will be a mixed bag. He or she will have some excellent qualities and some glaring weaknesses. On some issues we will be in perfect agreement, on others we will be miles apart. When we vote for someone we do so largely on faith since we will know virtually nothing about who they really and truly are, so effective are their handlers. Sometimes it's a gut feeling, an intuition, indeed...a hope. But, I'm thinking that if we all use this handy how-to guide to picking Presidents, we might actually get lucky.