Who Is Qualified to Be President? Hard to Say: Some Candidates Clearly Were Ready, Some Presidents Were Not but Did Pretty Well

By Shribman, David M | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Who Is Qualified to Be President? Hard to Say: Some Candidates Clearly Were Ready, Some Presidents Were Not but Did Pretty Well


Shribman, David M, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Marco Rubio is a freshman Republican senator from Florida, a virtual unknown outside political circles but already a possible presidential candidate. The other day he won headlines by pronouncing himself ready to be chief executive of the greatest power on Earth.

If Mr. Rubio, who turns 43 this month, were elected he would have less than one term in the United States Senate. You might think of him as a drive-by senator, presumptuous in believing himself qualified for the top executive office, except that his 70 months would be more than 50 percent longer than the amount of time Barack Obama spent in the Senate before being elected to the White House.

All of which raises an important question: What does it take to be ready, to be qualified, to be president of the United States?

Here are some people who were, by ordinary reckoning, ready to be president of the United States:

* Sen. Robert J. Dole of Kansas, a disabled World War II veteran who was in Congress for more than a third of a century. He lost the 1996 election.

* Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a celebrated Vietnam prisoner of war who served on Capitol Hill for a quarter-century when he won the Republican nomination in 1996. He lost to Mr. Obama.

* Albert Gore Jr., a Vietnam veteran and son of a senator who served in the House and Senate and as an unusually activist vice president for eight years. He lost the 2000 election.

And one more .

* Walter F. Mondale, a state attorney general, senator and vice president. In 1974 he made the extraordinary remark that he wasn't ready to be president, regarded then as now as a comment of unusual probity and maturity. He spent the time between the end of his vice presidency and the 1984 campaign studying up on the vital issues of the time, and once emerged from his Minneapolis law office to announce to an astonished colleague: I finally understand the Federal Reserve. On the day he declared his candidacy for the White House he proclaimed, "I am ready to be president." By any reasonable measure, he probably was. He lost 49 states.

In the post-war period, only three presidents have been indisputably qualified in the traditional way to hold the office they won.

One was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded Allied forces in Europe - a dozen generals have become president - and had served as an Ivy League university president. One was Richard M. Nixon, who served in the House, Senate and as vice president for two tumultuous terms (and still was defeated in 1960 by a candidate regarded as unqualified in the customary manner, John F. Kennedy, before he rebounded to win the White House eight years later). And one was George H. W. Bush, who served in the House, was chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of Central Intelligence, chief U.S. diplomat both in Beijing and at the United Nations, and then was a two-term vice president.

The rest have been political gambles made by the American people.

Kennedy in fact was - here's a new concept - among the least unqualified presidents of the period, a World War II veteran with six years in the House and eight in the Senate but a slim record on Capitol Hill. He rates a slight advantage, by virtue of his slender foreign-policy experience, over four governors with no foreign policy experience whatsoever: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. …

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