The Rookie President

March 31st, 2009

Thomas Sowell wrote a column today, A Rookie President, about the danger of having a very inexperienced president, especially now.  Here’s part of it:

We now have a rookie President of the United States and, in the dangerous world we live in, with terrorist nations going nuclear, just one rookie mistake can bring disaster down on this generation and generations yet to come.

Barack Obama is a rookie in a sense that few other Presidents in American history have ever been. It is not just that he has never been President before. He has never had any position of major executive responsibility in any kind of organization where he was personally responsible for the outcome.

Sowell continued:

Other first-term Presidents have been governors, generals, cabinet members or others in positions of personal responsibility. A few have been senators, like Barack Obama, but usually for longer than Obama, and had not spent half their few years in the senate running for President.

What is even worse than making mistakes is having sycophants telling you that you are doing fine when you are not. In addition to all the usual hangers-on and supplicants for government favors that every President has, Barack Obama has a media that will see no evil, hear no evil and certainly speak no evil.

They will cheer him on, no matter what he does, short of first-degree murder—and they would make excuses for that. …

There is no sign that President Obama has impressed the Russians, the Iranians or the North Koreans, except by his rookie mistakes—and that is a dangerous way to impress dangerous people. …

Future generations who live in the shadow of [a terrorist] nuclear threat may wonder what we were thinking about, putting our lives—and theirs—in the hands of a rookie because we liked his style and symbolism?

No matter how much we like and admire him, we’re all going to have to face up to the possibility that Obama may be a bright, articulate, likable man who’s grossly inexperienced and too involved in the wonder of being president.  If he doesn’t get his act together soon, we’re all going to regret that we didn’t go with the cranky old guy.  Well, those of us with a grip on reality, anyway.


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21 Responses to “The Rookie President”



  1. Kevin |

    The premise is absurd, IMHO.

    Lincoln had an almost identical record to Obama when he became a rookie president and masterfully guided our nation through what was easily the single most direct, real threat to our nation’s very existance that it’s ever endured, not to mention the bloodiest conflict bar none.

    Executive experience is over-rated. Just ask current or recent owners of stock in any number of corporations headed by someone with stellar executive experience.


  2. duggy |

    Maybe that Lincoln got lucky but that was then, this is now! A terrible choice of words I know. The notion that today’s situation is any less perilous is debatable.
    My take on the Sowell article is simply the fact that this is not the time for a President with little or no experience as a leader. Maybe Obama can bumble along and fake the whole thing.
    Actually,the conspiracy side of me sees a man with a very sinister agenda. In spite of what some folks say, this man is pushing socialism as indicated by his apparent desire to have the government take control of banking, industry and health care.
    I would also remind you that Lincoln worked to re-unite the nation. Obama and his party show strong signs of doing just the opposite.


  3. Tom |

    The Obama camp promotes comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, but those comparisons don’t hold up to examination. The list of differences between the two is very long. Just a few examples:

    Obama had most things in life handed to him, for whatever reasons; Lincoln struggled up from poverty on the basis of his own hard work, intelligence, and determination without special favors or treatment.

    Obama ducked hard issues routinely as a state senator and did next to nothing as a U.S. senator; Lincoln, as a state legislator and very junior member of the House of Representatives, made a reputation for himself as a courageous politician who was willing to take on contentious issues.

    Obama enjoyed a privileged education at Harvard but accomplished little of note there and afterwards; Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer who established a stellar reputation in court and in representing his clients.

    Obama had little involvement with businesses and didn’t observe how competent executives function, focusing mainly on charitable foundations and activist groups like ACORN; Lincoln had many business clients and knew how businesses were run.

    Obama attended and provided significant financial support for over 20 years to a church headed by a virulent anti-American bigot; Lincoln never joined a church, although he was personally religious, and he never did anything that could have called his patriotism into question.

    Obama never served in the military; indeed, one suspects that he would have sneered in disbelief had someone even suggested that he serve; Lincoln was an officer on active service with the Illinois militia.

    And the list goes on….

    Beyond questionable comparisons to a president of a century and a half ago, comparing the present economic crisis to the Civil War is also seriously flawed. On the one hand, we have an economic problem that, if handled reasonably well, can be overcome in the not-too-distant future. On the other hand, we had an armed conflict that threatened to destroy the nation; in the beginning, many people believed the Union could not survive, and in the end it was a close thing. Over 600,000 Americans died in that war, more than the total deaths in all our other wars combined. So, to say that our nation faces the same degree of peril today is simply not true.

    The fact is, Obama doesn’t have 100 days or 100 months to get his act together and figure out what his job is. He needs to do the right things now. It’s becoming more and more evident that he doesn’t really know what those “right things” are. Maybe he’ll muddle through, maybe not. I’d be a lot more comfortable if we had someone in the office who had more experience and a more substantive record of accomplishment.


  4. Kevin |

    We can parse the time differences and the record differences til the cows come home and the fact will remain that Lincoln’s executive experience – the premise here – was virtually nil.

    In contrast to both Lincoln and Obama, here are some folks with strong resumes with progressively greater executive experience:

    Rickard Fuld – Lehman Brothers, which failed spectacularly last year.

    Martin Sullivan – AIG, recipients of a government bailout of epic, historic proportions and is STILL struggling.

    Rick Wagoner – General Motors, helped preside over reducing the largest auto manufactorer on the PLANET to a festering economic basket case.

    The list could go on and on and on. There’s the value of your executive experience in the real world.


  5. Robert |

    The only parallel between Lincoln and Obama is that they were both president. Lincoln proved his worth in the heat of battle. Obama is proving that he can bow down to our enemies in the heat of battle.


  6. Brian |

    Kevin, those guys all made the news precisely because they have failed. You ignore the 10s of thousands of business execs that are good at what they do. And to be fair to Wagoner, et al, they were dealing with a level of regulation that doesn’t exist in too many other industries.

    Ever heard of Jack Welch? Surely you’ve heard of Warren Buffet? Larry Ellison? T.J. Rodgers? Gordon Bethune? Bethune, by the way, held an aircraft mechanic’s license as well as a commercial pilot’s license. He “worked alongside the troops” regularly.

    The list could go on and on. There’s the value of your executive experience in the real world.


  7. Kevin |

    Brian, you make my point for me, although I doubt you realize it.


  8. IamRobert |

    So what?

    George Bush supposedley had lots of experience…’nuff said.


  9. doris |

    I dare say, you forget the old man’s experience involved being a prisoner of war. That’s not a win, and maybe we called him a hero, but in my book if you get captured, you messed up a little. He appeared to be an old, almost feeble man who was not president but fought in a war. How does that make you more experienced?? Most presidents had no experience for that job, nothing can possibly prepare you for it. The fact that Bush was an idiot and an alcoholic who ruined all his businesses, whose Dad saved his butt over and over, didn’t seem to be experience for president, but if you say so. I don’t think experience is the question or the answer here. Can he do it, will he make the right choices, these are the questions, he is rapidly getting experience and God help us if he doesn’t. Most new presidents get a little longer to be judged, but Bush left it so completely devastated that now it’s all the new guy’s fault. Be he an old guy or a younger guy, he is gonna take all the complaints and possibly screw it up worse. Brian, you gonna take that without saying anything?????


  10. Brian |

    Kevin, without googling the names I gave, can you tell me what companies they run or ran? It is the men and women like the ones I named that make this country work, not politicians.

    The end result of politicians getting to decide things bears names like Skoda, Trabant, Fiat, AirBus, and Ilyushin.

    The end result of businessmen deciding things bears names like Apple, MicroSoft, Oracle, Cypress Semiconductors, Cadillac, Toyota, IBM, General Electric, Boeing, Kroger, Coca Cola, AnyWear, Levi Strauss, Justin Boots, Timberland, RCA, Sony, The Learning Company, Panalpina, Mead, 3M, Rubbermaid, Comcast, Acme, Opinion-Forum.com, ad infinitum.

    When businessmen make bad decisions, they hurt themselves and their employees. When governments make bad decisions, which they do with monotonous regularity, they hurt everybody except themselves and their cronies.

    For the record, I never voted for Bush, and I disagreed with most of his policies. Bush expanded government at almost every opportunity. Government is inefficient. Inefficiency leads to higher costs, which makes it more difficult for the hoi polloi to lead unencumbered lives.

    For good or ill, I am capable of making my own decisions, and I do not need some omnipotent moral busybody, be they Marxists or Fascists, telling me what I should or should not do. Provided I do not quantifiably injure anyone, the manner in which I conduct my affairs is my business alone.


  11. Amber |

    Ok…. I don’t know too much about that kind of stuff, but I did hear that in the election Obama said he would bring the soldiers back home, but he just sent more people there. That’s just what I heard.


  12. Kevin |

    It is the men and women like the ones I named that make this country work, not politicians.

    Actually it’s neither. The Cranky Old Guy, as Tom calls him, was right: it’s the American worker who makes this country work, not the overpaid executives or the politicians sucking at the teets of said overpaid executives.

    I don’t care how extensive of an “executive experience” resume a manager or CEO has. Without Americans actually making the widgets, he has nothing to sell… without Americans providing the services (typically at astonishingly low wages) he has no services to sell.

    We wouldn’t even know who the Hiltons are if not for the many peons changing sheets and scrubbing toilets in their hotels for barely subsistance wages. Trust me on this, nobody is going to pay very much money for a dirty room with unchanged sheets on the beds.

    The problem with Free Market clerics is that they glorify the cart while glibly ignoring the fact that without the horse pulling it the cart is worthless.


  13. Tom |

    So, if I understand, Kevin, the workers of the world will unite and perform miraculous work even if freed from the oppressive yoke of management and executives. They’ll do everything that’s needed, planning and organizing it all by themselves, without the malign presence of the Fords, Hiltons, Welchs, Gates, et al., whose property should be confiscated anyway and who should be taken out behind a wall and shot. All means of production should be owned by the people, led by benign and loving representatives of the workers.

    I think this was tried before…wait a minute, I’m trying to think of the name of it…well, anyway, I don’t think it worked very well.

    😉


  14. Tom |

    Amber, we’re really talking about two wars. Despite his campaign promises, Obama is pulling troops out of Iraq in about the same numbers at about the same time as Bush had planned to do. But he’s sending more troops into Afghanistan, the other war, and that’s the right thing to do. However, he and his Administration have decided to try to do essentially the same kind of nation-building in Afghanistan as was tried in Iraq, with only limited success. That’s a mistake where Afghanistan is concerned, and they’ll eventually figure that out.


  15. Kevin |

    Tom, is communism the only conceivable alternative to craven obeisance to corporate executives and their vast experience? I certainly don’t believe so.

    My point, which seems to have escaped everyone, is that there are counter-examples demonstrating that executive experience not only isn’t always an asset but is arguably at the very root of some very serious problems. I mean, surely you’d agree that Ken Lay and his buddies were hardly likely to have successfully pulled off the Enron scam right out of business school. That took experience. Ditto for Bernie Madoff and many others.

    Or if you prefer a political example, Bush – a Harvard MBA with executive experience – let Henry Paulson (Goldman Sachs?!?!) handle… er… mishandle his administration’s response to the market implosion. Seems to me that Obama has hardly done anything any worse than Bush or Paulson and he’s a constitutional law scholar with no executive experience, as you’ve pointed out.


  16. Tom |

    Kevin, the problem is that you significantly overstate the plight of the oppressed masses (which bears no relation to reality in America) and the evil machinations of the useless rich and powerful (which also bears no relation to reality). That kind of extremist argument leads to only one solution, and like I said, that hasn’t worked anywhere it’s been tried.

    Yes, you can find examples of executives in business, government, and elsewhere that are negative. But that certainly doesn’t represent the universe of executives and other kinds of leaders. Sometimes experience doesn’t mean much, but in general, having relevant experience for a job you’re moving into is a distinct positive. The more important the job, the more important it is to have that relevant experience.


  17. Kevin |

    I’ve not said or inferred that executives and their experience are useless.


  18. doris |

    Whew, Amber, it’s beyond me, too. But, I’m with you, I want our troops home, now!!!!!!! I am tired of the coffins coming home, the young boys, what a waste…. Kevin, yeah, for Robin Hood, gotta be a better way than Communism to solve this corruption. The rich get richer, etc.


  19. Brian Bagent |

    Kevin, what happened to Lay, et al is precisely what should have happened where corporate malfeasance is concerned. When corporate officers demonstrate incompetence or malfeasance, they frequently run their companies into the ground or end up in prison or both. The same cannot be said of governmental malfeasance/incompetence. In fact, it is quite typically the opposite – malfeasance and incompetence seem to be prerequisites for many government jobs.

    Bush is a fantastic example of this. So is most of Obama’s cabinet, and so is most of congress. I wouldn’t follow most of our representatives and senators to the nearest convenience store, yet these boobs are running this country.

    I argue for neither a conservative nor liberal government, for they both must be large and powerful to effect their ends. I argue for a smaller government which lacks the power to harm very many people, which is the very best that we can hope for.

    The point which you have so far seemed to miss is that almost all businessmen/women are competent leaders – and the proof is in the pudding: if even a significant plurality of business leaders were incompetent or untrustworthy, then those businesses would be out of business, and you’d be seeing an awful lot of vacant office space and strip malls.

    A business transaction between two or more parties is the pinnacle of civilization – it represents the idea that two people with different interests can agree to peacefully reach an agreement for an exchange of commodities or services. Government, on the other hand, represents the basest characteristics of humanity because it assumes that some or all people must be forced or coerced into “behaving” one way or another.

    There are only two ways to deal with other humans: violence or persuasion – the barrel of a gun, or rational discourse. I look, perhaps vainly, for the greatness of man to prevail. Make no mistake about it – man’s greatness is tied to his ability to reason and act rationally, not his ability to emote, to be violent, and to act rashly. Any four-legged animal is capable of such things, and in fact is the ordinary course for them.


  20. Kevin |

    The point which you have so far seemed to miss is that almost all businessmen/women are competent leaders – and the proof is in the pudding: if even a significant plurality of business leaders were incompetent or untrustworthy, then those businesses would be out of business, and you’d be seeing an awful lot of vacant office space and strip malls.

    Which of course explains the abject poverty among the Russian, Italian, Japanese mafias, the various narco-mafias and other assorted criminal networks the world over and throughout human history.

    Do you ever bother to just sit and THINK through your ideological ass-u-mptions. Clearly few incompetents make it very far up the food chain in any economy. But the untrustworthy are often among the wealthiest in EVERY economy.


  21. doris |

    Nice people seldom become wealthy or important, too nice. Our society puts too much emphasis on looks and wealth, not any on morals, trustworthiness, or sweetness. Too bad, really, maybe Obama’s Robin Hood, thinking isn’t so horrible, only for the rich and corrupt?


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