Psychologists tell us that one of many reasons human beings make dumb decisions is something called "anchoring bias." Wikipedia describes it:
During normal decision-making, anchoring occurs when individuals overly rely on a specific piece of information to govern their thought-process. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the "anchored" information. Through this cognitive bias, the first information learned about a subject (or, more generally, information learned at an early age) can affect future decision-making and information analysis.
Put another way: once someone has already mentally made a decision, it is much harder to change their mind by giving them additional information than giving the information would have been before they made up their mind.
When your daughter brings home a boyfriend covered in gang tattoos and with syringes sticking out of his lowrider pants' pocket, it is probably too late: you will not be able to convince her that he's scum by pointing out compelling evidence. Even when the police arrest him with a suitcase full of crack cocaine, it will of course be because the pigs planted it on him, not because he is in fact a drug dealer.
No, the time to discuss suitable attributes of a prospective significant other is before you fall in love. That way, you can objectively evaluate and eliminate when there's no emotional attachment yet.
The same is true of political candidates; we would be so much better off had Americans logically thought through what they wanted in a President sometime in early 2007! Well, it may be too late for thought by residual Obamaniacs or even the Paulite partisans who've already made up their minds.
For the rest of us, this series discusses the Presidential decision matrix - that is, what we should look for in a President. The first article addressed specific experience that, history shows, makes for a good President.
This article discusses the opposite: experiences that lead a person in paths that will make them a bad President, and which we should avoid.
We won't waste time with the obvious: most people know better than to vote for a convicted felon, say, or a pornographer. There are, however, perfectly legal and even honorable life experiences that nevertheless spoil a person for the Presidency, and we'll start with perhaps the most important one:
"But wait a minute," you say. "Practically all politicians are lawyers!" Yes, and exactly how well have our politicians served us for, oh, the last half-century or so? You've heard the saying, "Why don't sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtesy."
All joking aside, there is nothing wrong with being trained as a lawyer. Many of our Founders were lawyers, though they didn't have law schools as such in those days. Men like Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson were trained in what amounted to a high-level apprenticeship, reading law under an experienced attorney.
If you want to write the law, it's obviously helpful to understand the law; today, that knowledge usually comes with a law degree. Our concern is not really with the degree, and certainly not with legal knowledge.
No, the problem is specifically with the career lawyer. By definition, a lawyer is not a productive member of society, they're much more like human-resources executives, tax accountants, and DMV employees. All of these folks may work diligently at their jobs but they don't provide anything anybody wants. Their service, such as it is, has value only because of government fiat and market intervention.
Government bureaucrats, as we know all too well, don't have to produce anything of value. Their personal interests are usually served by producing as little as possible while lobbying for more government mandates forcing citizens to use their services. This, in turn, provides a rationale for higher taxes and larger agency budgets, which provide personal promotions and raises for bureaucrats with seniority. All the while, people go to them because they're forced to by the government and for no other reason.
A lawyer is a bit like this. There is no circumstance - none whatsoever - where having a lawyer means you're in an ideal situation; you only need a lawyer because you are already in a sticky spot. While the lawyer may keep your problem from getting worse, you'll be stuck with a monstrous bill regardless of the end result.
Once upon a time, ordinary folks needed lawyers only to defend against criminal accusations and it was generally possible to avoid this need by not committing crimes in the first place. Even businesses could go many years without the need of a lawyer simply by doing business honestly.
With today's avalanche of regulations touching everything under the sun, practically every move you make can be subject to legal sanction, thus requiring - aha! - a lawyer. Through passing too many laws, lawyers have created yet more work for their fellow lawyers and the whole overgrown industry is nothing more than a counterproductive burden on society.
Why does this matter to the Presidency? Think about it: do we really want a President whose first instinct is "Call a lawyer," and whose first response to every problem is "Pass a law"?
There is a time and a place for highly-skilled and experienced legal practitioners. The Oval Office is not that place.
The way of the lawyer is to encourage blame and work on getting even; a President should concentrate on making it possible for all Americans to get ahead by their own efforts. He should encourage Americans to fulfill their ambitions and encourage government to get out of the way.
For at least the past hundred years, professors and academicians have been welcome in the halls of power. Pres. Woodrow Wilson had a PhD, taught constitutional law, and was the president of Princeton University. Barack Obama has no PhD but he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
It is not a coincidence that both of these academic presidents oversaw vast expansions of government power and intrusion into private lives. Professors are supposed to be experts and it's human nature to look down on anyone not so expert as themselves. If you're the best, brightest, and best-educated, doesn't that mean that you know best and others should follow your commands without question?
Of course, that's not the way a free country is supposed to work. It's not really the way a university is supposed to work, either - once upon a time, "academic freedom" meant the freedom to pursue whatever areas of research or investigation held appeal, with truth being the only arbiter. Unfortunately, modern universities haven't honored that freedom for many years when it comes to politically-incorrect or conservative topics.
Aside from leftist, elitist, and totalitarian biases, there's another reason why the professorial temperament is badly suited to the Presidency. A good professor is always seeking to increase his knowledge and that of his students by further study; there's never any particular deadline, nor a limit to the amount of new knowledge that can be gained.
Nothing could be more alien to government. A national leader never has all possible knowledge, yet must make decisions on deadline every day. Indeed, the whole art of political leadership revolves around making your best judgement call with grossly insufficient or even wrong data, adjusting as required on a dynamic basis. Dithering is fine and expected of a professor but deadly in a President.
In fact, ignoring missing data leads to completely different expectations and results. Climate computer models, for instance, are famous for predictions totally different from what's observed in reality; and as complex as the climate is, a global economy made up of the thousands of individual daily choices of six billion individuals is even more so.
Predictive models will never be complete and we can never wholly understand either the climate or the economy. For whatever reason, academicians seem to have a hard time grasping this and always overlook the unintended consequences of their latest policy suggestions.
Anyone running a free country needs to have a healthy respect for the limitations not only of their own knowledge, but of knowledge in general, along with an equally healthy respect for the unexpected. A president must be able to be blindsided without either blinking or blindly continuing on in the wrong direction, cavalierly brushing aside evidence that doesn't fit his existing views.
Last, the life of an academic is talking, discussion, and debating; in theory, hashing things out across a table arrives at the truth. Real life doesn't work that way; there are some people and nations that only listen to a punch in the face or a Tomahawk through the window.
A lifelong academic will always want to talk just a little bit more. Adolf Hitler was the master of hoodwinking Neville Chamberlain with talk, talk, talk while he was beating up entire nations outside the conference room. The Leader of the Free World should be ready to talk, but must understand when it's time to whip out Teddy Roosevelt's big stick and clonk someone with it.
As with the lawyer, there's nothing wrong with a spell of teaching and you obviously want a smart and well-educated leader. What you don't want is an ivory-tower elitist who cannot distinguish between the ideal theoretical world of the university and the messier and more complex world of real life.
We've explored the proper experience for presidential candidates, both positive and negative, but there's more to a man than his experience alone. In the next article in this series, we'll talk about what kind of personality and temperament we do want in a President.