Thoughts on the Electability of Non-Politicians: Character Trumps Experience

David Frum, former special assistant to George W. Bush, has decided that Herman Cain can’t be president. And he tells us why in this CNN opinion piece.

Penguin LogicBut I beg to differ…

Oh, he does make some compelling arguments — at least for some people.

But Frum counts on the fact that We the People just won’t take the time, nor do we have the sophistication, to figure out what’s really being communicated. He thinks he can hide it (as do others, including the media) through the foggy logic of modern political argumentation that he employs.

Here’s the gist.

The crux of Frum’s argument is this: Cain hasn’t been in politics, so Cain can’t effectively run government.


So George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson — even Chester Arthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower — these should all have known that they “can’t be president”?

“Come on”, you might say about the early presidents. “That was then.”

But is it any more important for today’s presidents than it was then? I would submit that it isn’t. But that’s another story.

In any event, though it’s disappointing to read, Frum’s piece has all the elements of modern smoke-and-mirrors, political-style spin.

The great tragedy here? That we allow ourselves to be influenced by it.

Frum begins by buttering us up with praise for Cain. While all this may indeed be sincere, watch out! — it’s usually a method for dampening our sense of discernment. “After all, he genuinely likes the guy, so his criticisms must be true,” right?

Nope. (Uhhh, just look at the title of his piece.)

Next, Frum uses the standard scare tactics. He contends:

“…here’s the trouble: [Cain] has not held… any… executive office at any level of government.

“So what?

“So everything! The president’s most fundamental job is to run the government. That job is very, very hard. The consequences of a mistake are very, very serious.”

I see… It’s very, very hard.

Now I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if Bill Clinton and George Bush could do it — for heaven’s sake, if an actor in the form of Ronald Reagan could do it — why not a businessman; or a doctor; or perhaps a former athelete?

But it is very, very hard. And the consequences of a mistake can be very, very serious.

Yeah, tell us about it…

On the other hand, it seems to me that the office of our president — while not just a figurehead, as in the president (not the chancellor) of Germany — isn’t quite the responsible party of our government that everyone seems to believe.

On the contrary. I would argue congress is the seat of power in the United States government. They write the laws; they pass them; they control the purse strings. During the recent budget crisis, there wasn’t much Barack Obama could do to speed things along — or get anything accomplished at all — without congress making it happen.

And guess what? It was set up by the ingenious framers to be that way by design.

The next element of obscuring spin comes through a logical fallacy. Witness.

“…Americans have historically demanded a record of successful accomplishment in public office from their presidential candidates. The current president is an exception to the rule, and — well — enough said.”

This thinly veiled dig at Obama is an attempt to form the conclusion that

  1. Obama had little experience in running a government.
  2. Obama has made a mess of things.
  3. little experience in running a government assures making a mess of things.

This is what is known as a logical fallacy. There could be any number of reasons (besides having little experience) that contributed to the mess we are now in. And, truth be told, you could easily turn that on its head and claim objectively that people like George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter had plenty of experience when they took office, but in their relative circumstances, they still made a mess of things.

This is what’s wrong with the argumentation of today. Not enough people are trained to see the foolishness for what it is. And if it appeals to our emotions or confirms what we want to believe in the first place, we buy into it, regardless of whether it’s accurate and true.

At this point I should remind you that the writer of this piece, Mr. Frum, is a long-time political “operative”, for lack of a better word.

My experience indicates that those who are entrenched in the politics-as-usual game are precisely those most against the idea of a citizen-leader.

On the other hand, without a moment’s hesitation I would stake everything I am on the proposition that a non-politician is precisely what we need most in our federal offices today. Let them serve for  a time, then return to their communities and former careers, just as the framers envisioned.

Seemingly oblivious to such a possibility though, Frum goes on to ridicule Michelle Bachmann, Donald Trump (as he flirted with the idea of running), and Cain. Republicans, he says, “defiantly reject the very idea of expertise.”

Well, why not?

Hasn’t it been those with “expertise” that have got us where we are? Are we truly pleased with the results we’ve achieved through expertise?

From the scandals, to the rhetoric; the sound bites to the attacks; from spin to back-room deals; from the blame game to partisan bickering.

If this is what we get from expertise, aren’t we ready to consider what our founding fathers once took as self-evident? I ask you!

Finally, Frum cleverly puts the quintessential element of (false) persuasion into play.

In an almost-subtle display of derision, Frum casts it as de facto ludicrous that “…voters assume that if a candidate professes the right values, he or she will make the right decisions.”

Well I’ve got news for you, Mr. Politics.

According to the founding fathers, they will.

“It’s character, stupid!”


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