By Big Mo
One of the baffling criticisms leveled at Sarah Palin from the left and center-right is that she is “unqualified” to be president. It’s a laughable complaint considering both her past experiences and the serious lack of subjective qualifications of the current president.
Is Palin qualified to be president? According to the Constitution, she is. She is of the right age, been living in the United States for more than 14 consecutive years and is a natural born American citizen, and therefore satisfies the Article II, Section 1 criteria. Those are the objective qualifications.
Now, subjective qualifications are another matter, and depend on current politics and the fickleness of the voting public. What people want in a candidate often varies, and past experience does not always make someone subjectively qualified. If we consider education, well, every president of the 20th century has had a college education. If we look at prior elective office, all but a handful of presidents held state or national offices. Palin has both of those. (She has limited non-uniform military experience from the standpoint of being the head of the Alaska National Guard—all state governors have this limited experience, but I’m not looking at that here.)
First, let’s list each president’s pre-presidential offices, business and other experiences, not counting life experience. “Planter” refers to those men who owned plantations, which, as unsavory as they are today, counts as business ownership. Names in ( ) denote administrations under which presidents the men held elective or appointed office.
Also, an “*” denotes the men who succeeded dead, slain or resigned presidents and therefore were not elected based on past experience. Those who were elected in their own right after finishing a term were elected based on their presidential experience. Still, it’s interesting to see their qualifications, which helped them be nominated vice president (along with party interests, of course).
George Washington – colonial officer (French and Indian War), general in chief of the Continental army, delegate to the constitutional convention, planter, colonial officer, surveyor
John Adams – delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses, minister plenipotentiary, vice president (Washington, of course)
Thomas Jefferson – delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, secretary of state (Washington) vice president (Adams), author, planter and inventor
James Madison – Virginia state legislator, delegate to the Second Continental Congress, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, U.S. congressman, secretary of state (Jefferson)
James Monroe – USA officer (Revolution), diplomat, Confederation congressman, Virginia legislator and governor, U.S. senator, secretary of state (Madison), secretary of war (Madison)
John Quincy Adams – minister to Berlin, U.S. senator, minister to Russia, peace delegate for the Treaty of Ghent, minister to England, secretary of state (Monroe)
Andrew Jackson – USA general (War of 1812), senator, planter
Martin Van Buren – governor of New York, U.S. senator, secretary of state (Jackson), vice president (Jackson)
William Henry Harrison – USA general (War of 1812), territorial representative, governor of Indiana Territory, U.S. representative, state senator, U.S. senator, minister to Colombia
John Tyler * – U.S. senator, governor of Virginia, vice president (Harrison)
James K. Polk – state legislator, U.S. representative, including speaker of the House, governor of Tennessee
Zachary Taylor – professional soldier, USA army commander (Mexican War), planter
Millard Fillmore * – lawyer, U.S. congressman, vice president (Taylor)
Franklin Pierce – lawyer, general, U.S. representative, U.S. senator
James Buchanan – Pennsylvania state representative, U.S. representative, U.S. senator, secretary of state (Polk), foreign minister to England
Abraham Lincoln – lawyer, Illinois state representative, U.S. representative
Andrew Johnson * – military governor of Tennessee, U.S. senator, vice president (Lincoln)
Ulysses S. Grant – farmer, clerk, salesman, USA officer (Mexican War), USA general (Civil War), general-in-chief of the United States Army
Rutherford Hayes – lawyer, governor of Ohio, U.S. representative, USA (Civil War)
James Garfield – lawyer, educator, USA general (Civil War), Ohio state senator, U.S. representative, U.S. senator
Chester A. Arthur * – lawyer, principal, chief engineer and quartermaster general for the state of New York, collector of the New York Customhouse, vice president (Garfield)
Grover Cleveland #1 – lawyer, sheriff and mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., and governor of New York
Benjamin Harrison – lawyer, Indiana supreme court reporter (an elective office), USA general (Civil War), U.S. senator
Grover Cleveland #2 – president of the United States
William McKinley – USA officer (Civil War), lawyer, U.S. representative, governor of Ohio
Theodore Roosevelt * – USA officer (Spanish-American War), rancher, author, assistant secretary of the Navy, state assemblyman and governor of New York, vice president
William Howard Taft – lawyer, prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio, University of Cincinnati law school dean and professor, judge of the Ohio Superior Court, solicitor general of the United States (Harrison), judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth District, governor-general of the Philippines, secretary of war (Roosevelt)
Woodrow Wilson – president of Princeton University, professor, lecturer, lawyer, constitutional scholar/author, governor of New Jersey
Warren G. Harding – newspaper editor and publisher, Ohio state senator and lieutenant governor, U.S. senator
Calvin Coolidge * – lawyer; banker; city councilman, solicitor and mayor of Northampton, Mass.; and Massachusetts state representative, state senator, lieutenant governor and governor
Herbert Hoover – engineer, chairman of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, head of the U.S. Food Administration and the American Relief Administration (all three Wilson), secretary of commerce (Harding and Coolidge)
Franklin D. Roosevelt – lawyer, assistant secretary of the Navy (T. Roosevelt), state senator and governor of New York
Harry S. Truman * – USA officer (World War I), judge in Jackson County, Missouri, U.S. senator, vice president (F. Roosevelt)
Dwight D. Eisenhower – general-in-chief of Allied forces in Europe, U.S. Army chief of staff, NATO supreme commander, president of Columbia University
John F. Kennedy – USN officer (World War II), U.S. representative and U.S. senator
Lyndon B. Johnson * – educator, USN officer (World War II), U.S. representative, U.S. senator, governor of Texas, vice president (Kennedy)
Richard Nixon – lawyer, USN officer (World War II), U.S. representative, U.S. senator, vice president (Eisenhower), author
Gerald Ford * – lawyer, USN officer (World War II), U.S. congressman, vice president (Nixon, as appointed)
Jimmy Carter – USN officer, farmer, state senator and governor of Georgia
Ronald Reagan – actor, president of Screen Actors Guild, broadcaster, governor of California
George H. W. Bush – USN officer (Word War II), U.S. representative, businessman, director of the CIA, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, director on Council on Foreign Relations, vice president (Reagan)
Bill Clinton – lawyer, attorney general and governor of Arkansas
George W. Bush – governor of Texas, businessman and business owner, TANG fighter pilot
Barack Obama – lawyer, community organizer (Annenberg Challenge, etc.), law lecturer and president of Harvard Law Review, author, Illinois state senator and U.S. senator
Now, let’s list Palin’s elective offices and other experiences: city council member and mayor of Wasilla, AK, chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, governor of Alaska, author, broadcaster and host of TV series on Alaska. Palin also has worked in the family business for decades.
And something not listed among the qualifications above: Who was a party builder before he became president? Most presidents are party builders during their campaigns or as president, but before they ran for president, few men could claim to be party builders. It’s difficult to narrow down and delineate how critical a man was to building party power prior to the presidency. In fact, many of the most crucial party builders were never president, such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Mark Hanna, among many others. But Martin Van Buren certainly stands out among the presidents. In ways not quite understood (mainly due to the lack of a clear historical paper trail), according to his best biographers Van Buren built the apparatus that took the Democratic Party from a regional-based group to a national party through true grassroots efforts in the North, South and Old Northwest.
Van Buren essentially created a grassroots-style of politicking that we’re familiar with: parties, parades, speeches, rallies, and communications. This was before he became Jackson’s vice president. He possessed brilliance for political organization, and fostered respect, discipline, cooperation, and communication and voting in New York. Nothing like it had been seen before in America. He didn’t do it alone, but rather took advantage of existing structures and groups and streamlined them, took them over, guided them or exploited them in order to mold them into a single entity. Not for nothing did Van Buren’s efforts in New York earn him the knick-name “the Little Magician.”
Sarah Palin is indeed a party-builder; not quite the same as Van Buren, but close. It’s safe to say, I believe, that Palin is the biggest kingmaker and queen-maker in the country today. By tapping in to—or merging with—the Tea Party movement, Palin helped boost 56 of 82 House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates she supported to victory in the 2010 mid-term elections. That’s the stark figure. Who knows just how much she helped propel state legislature candidates to victory. No political figure in the last 40 or so years has so enthused the base—and increased the size of that base—like Palin has. Not even Reagan and Clinton after their presidencies had that much influence on subsequent elections.
Starting in the fall of 2008, Palin provided the one key thing missing from the national Republican Party since 2004: Genuine enthusiasm. Palin found a natural platform with the Tea Party movement in general and conservatives in particular. Her message resonates because it is their message, too.
Now, people on the left and the establishment GOP whine and moan that Palin doesn’t understand the issues and isn’t a deep person. But such a person could not move the big debates in this country as Palin has through her Facebook postings, Twitter, speeches, candidate endorsements, and books.
In contrast, the current president had little experience before becoming president. He was a community organizer, a state senator and a U.S. Senator, the latter of which he pretty much abdicated almost as soon as he got into the office because he spent most of his time in that body running for president. I enjoy pointing this out to libs who sneer that Palin is a “quitter” for resigning as governor. At least Palin governed during her time in office, and other than the brief months as McCain’s running mate, served her state until she could no longer serve effectively.
Obama, on the other hand, was a lousy senator because of the simple, undeniable fact that he was mentally absent most of the time. Obama also led the Harvard Law Review and was a professor, but produced no papers or other materials. Like his time in the senate, he was simply “present.” In many, many votes in both the Illinois and U.S. senates, Obama voted “present,” as he was unwilling to take serious stands on anything. He put forth no bills to address serious problems and was not a leader.
When you dig in to what Obama actually did prior to the White House, his resume is pretty thin. Not so with Palin, who got serious results in all offices she held in Alaska. Most presidents had similar accomplishments, whether in law, elective office, business or serving as soldiers or sailors.
Obama’s serous lack of experience was greatly overshadowed by a public that wanted to elect a man who seemed to be the anti-Bush. Right now, Sarah Palin is the anti-Obama.
Regardless of whether Palin runs for president, I say that considering the pre-presidential elected, appointed and business experiences of Numbers 1 through 44, Palin measures up pretty darn well.
(Note – Some of the best and most scholarly examinations of almost all the presidents can be found in the University of Kansas’ The American Presidency series, which started in the 1970s. Those volumes are, for the most part, superior to The American Presidents series started by the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr.)
Big Mo is an historian and a professional writer and editor in corporate America. You can find more of his research on The Presidents at Big Mo.