Expecting the unexpected as president

Dan Drezner

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: There are a couple of big primaries on Tuesday. But don't tell donors the Democratic campaign is all but over... Hillary Clinton raked in $35 million this month. The Chicago Tribune is calling Barack Obama the "50 Million Dollar Man" for his February fundraising effort.

So here's a question: If a candidate can manage a nine-figure enterprise like, say, a presidential campaign, is that good preparation for the White House? Commentator Dan Drezner says the answer's complicated.


Dan Drezner: As Barack Obama surges ahead in delegates and pubic-opinion polls, Hillary Clinton stresses her 35 years of experience as having prepared her to be the commander-in-chief from day one. This raises an interesting question: What is the best experience to become the leader of the Free World?

The answer is hazy. Some people believe the executive branch should be run like a business. George W. Bush's MBA, however, does not appear to have imbued him with superior management skills. Businessmen like Mitt Romney, Steve Forbes and Ross Perot all excelled in the private sector. But all of them spent great sums of money in their presidential campaigns, with little to show for it.

Senator Clinton seems to suggest that decades of experience in the capital represents the best training for the presidency. Well, maybe -- Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush were the modern presidents with the longest Washington resumes. Each had their moments, but none of them left the Oval Office gracefully. Washington insiders often rack up accomplishments, but at the same time they possess massive blind spots that cripple their presidencies.

Pundits suggest that managing a successful presidential campaign is the best preparation for the Oval Office. This idea is a seductive but tautological. In 2004, experts said Howard Dean was running a brilliant campaign -- until he started losing. Politics is too capricious a business to assume that candidates can control their destiny through superior planning.

As a management question, the problem with being the president is that one cannot anticipate what important issues will arise in the future. No one thought terrorism would be the paramount foreign policy problem during the 2000 campaign. I guarantee you there are issues that will not be talked about during this election year, but will dominate the presidency in 2009 and beyond.

Perhaps the best experience to be president, then, is the ability to successfully cope with the uncertain and the unknown. Of course, some managerial experts would not call that "experience." They would call it "judgment."

KAI RYSSDAL: Dan Drezner is a professor of International Politics at Tufts University. His most recent book is called "All Politics is Global."

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