On Presidentiality and Whether it Matters

Two articles in the Financial Times over this weekend caught my eye for their wildy different approaches to the same concept. Though both authors tackled the idea from very different angles, they both broadly addressed the idea of presidentiality, and what it could mean in some upcoming elections.

The first article, by Simon Kuper, dealt more with inate abilities of one particular candidate in the US in describing what he calls the 'CEO fallacy.' Essentially, in what appears to be a theoretical (he is not American) vote against Mitt Romney, he decries the assumption some people have that running a company is good experience for running a country. He is correct to point out that an economy has many layers, and that this is even truer in the case of a nation as a whole. He is also correct in stating that sometimes those layers conflict. Meanwhile, he contrasts CEOs who typically have one focus; profits.

Because of the myriad conflicts which need to be balanced in an economy, Kuper suggests that the job of president is infinitely more complicated than that of any lazer-focused CEO. All true in my opinion.

However, Romney supporters might point out that Kuper doesn't even bother addressing the main contra; that no experience running a company does give one the ability to run a nation. Of course he doesn't, because that would be absurd. However, perhaps a more even article would have pointed out that, while Romney having been 'in the economy' doesn't mean he can run it, neither did Obama's lack of experience mean he couldn't. Essentially, business acumen doesn't prove or disprove presidential abilities; neither does lack of business acumen. However, Kuper doesn't really hide his political allegiances in his pieces, and I would suspect that this line of reasoning wouldn't fit his narrative.

In a more even article by Vanessa Friedman, (fittingly for its location in the fashion portion of the paper) the concept of appearances with respect to presidentiality was addressed. In the article, Friedman queried whether France would vote 'bling' (Sarkozy) or 'bland' (Hollande) in the weekend's first-round presidential election. While Sarkozy was 'lauded upon election in 2007 for wearing a trim Prada suit to his swearing-in,' she wondered if the more rumpled, autocratic style of Mr. Hollande may be 'striking a chord with the polled electorate' this time around.

So what do these stories tell us? First off, election seasons are here, whether we would like it or not. People whose expertise is far outside the realm of politics will nonetheless be having a go at political topics with increasing frequency. However, more importantly, they are a (likely unintentional) reminder that many voters focus on things other than policies and platforms. Maybe this is because many people, even if just deep down, intuit that politicians aren't so different when it comes down to the bottom line.

Recent times, at least in the US, are proof of this. Obama has continued with many of the Bush administration's uglier policies as well as its wars; 'Hope and Change' has transitioned to 'More of the Same.' Republican hopeful Romney was the governor of one of the most liberal states in the union and was the architect of the first working universal healthcare plan, something his party now abhors. Presidents of both parties in the past few decades have had their little military excursions, have gone back and forth between being bullies and being buddies to allies and enemies alike on the international stage, have been the parties of government spending and budget surpluses.

Looking ahead, second term President Obama would likely not trample on the Second Amendment any more than he has (not at all). Defense spending will remain astronomically high, America will keep killing terrorists. President Romney will not end abortion and will probably let gays be. Neither candidate will end up doing (or stop doing) the types of things fearmongers suggest they will. It could be due to our checks and balances, varying levels of cooperation with Congress, or any number of other factors, but once the cameras go off and the soundbites are no longer being recorded, there is not much between most candidates for president, particularly in the US.

This may be a cynical hypothesis, but I believe it is a realistic one nonetheless. It might be just as efficient to go with the guy who wears the suit better, or worse, or the one who did or didn't run a company as anything else, ill-qualified to separate the challengers those classifications may be. When it comes down to it, such things may be the only real difference between them.


  1. Anonymous25/4/12 22:01

    I think one reason older voters vote more often is that they realize life is long. A single election or Presidency changes little. But over time, the laws of this nation have changed immensely. In the short term, it is somewhat comforting that both candidates would do little harm, and depressing that they can do little good. But change is wrought incrementally, though it appears to be in fits and starts. That's why elections do matter: intakes more time to turn around a bus than a Civic. Voters on both sides should view their choice as a downpayment on their children's nation.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I tried my hand at responding last night, but just deleted it. My comments just seemed too cynical, even for the mood I am, once they saw the light of day. That they were cliche-ridden as well is more reflective of my limitations as a writer than my mood...

    There may be something to what you are saying. In fact, I will say that I agree 100%. However it can also feel that the name on the door can feel inconsequential in matters of great import. I am not sure this is necessarily bad (in your words, it is somewhat comforting that they can't do much harm) but it is a fact of life. Maybe I was just pointing this out more than anything else, but it does to some extent explain issues such as voter apathy.

    Thanks again for the comment as well as taking a brighter view of the system than I could muster in the original post.