Here’s a thought experiment: try to come up with a job where a lack of experience is a plus. Electric fence tester comes to mind.
In most jobs and ventures, we value experience as a qualification above most others. It’s the first bullet point on most resumes. You might not have had the best grades or worked at the best firm, but if you’ve done task A more than applicant B, chances are you’re at the front of the job pack.
Yet, in our root-for-the-underdog, turn-over-the-applecart country, having as little experience as possible in government somehow is not only laudable, but is a ringing campaign slogan for the presidency. There is a large section of the electorate that hears the moniker “outsider” as on par with “Belichick.” It’s a phenomenon that speaks as much to our upstart ethos as it does to our continual frustration with government. It also proves our lack of understanding of how government works.
Like it or not, the federal government is not the tidy trifecta our founders constructed. It is no longer an orderly balance where “all legislative power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,” as Article I begins. We no longer give sole purview to the executive branch to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” as Article II states. We’re not in Kansas anymore, or any other state as we once knew it.
The leviathan-labyrinth-Steven King compendium that we now have consists of more than 430 federal departments, agencies and sub-agencies, not to mention approximately two million federal workers (they’re not fully sure!), which doesn’t include uniformed military personnel or postal workers. The president now sits atop that.
Our administrative version of Chutes and Ladders also subsists off of committees, subcommittees, outside studies, lobbyists, fund raising, the global supply chain, aggressive international relations, and as of recently, sit downs with Kim Kardashian. To say the U.S. Federal Government has a lot of moving parts is akin to contemplating the human genome.
And what kind of presidential candidate do we need to fly this Spruce Goose? An outsider! Someone who’s not part of the cronyism! That special set of eyes (and brass) that isn’t tainted or owned by years of government service! Yes, a neophyte plucked from the downy fresh world of business is exactly what this country needs to drain the blah, blah, blah.
The idea that a presidential candidate’s CV should be limited to the three constitutional requirements of being 35, a resident within the U.S. for 14 years and natural born citizen, is naive. Further, the hope that this dashing outsider will have some perspective that is untarnished by previous federal service is equally ignorant. It is the opposite. They will make claims and promises on the campaign trail not rooted in legislative precedent. For example, when Trump said during a debate when asked about whether our military should torture prisoners, he said, "I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” Yeah, um, that’s not how it works. Yet he was applauded by many for appearing, “strong,” or “willing to say what’s on his mind.” Maybe we as a people should be more impressed by those who know what the law is.
Another aspect of the outsider allure is that they aren’t bought and paid for through their years of previous campaigns and offices. This is an understandable, yet emotional, desire. Knowing that while the presidency has grown like kudzu, it is still but one office. It is held in check, fortunately, by 535 other elected officials. These servants, at some point, will heel to the wants of their biggest benefactors regardless of the presidency. Most of them desire the continuation of their fiefdom and they cannot do so without campaign dollars and the support of those who put them there in the first place. So, barring the impermanence of executive orders, a president must work those who were also elected, many of whom are on the opposite aisle.
Adding to the bulwark are state governments who are more than willing to challenge federal power through available federal courts of appeal. These state governments are further plied by, you got it, elected officials who are there to serve not a president, but their local constituents.
As for newbies wrapping themselves in government reform, how do you reform, or at least set in motion, in a very short amount of time, something about which you know very little?
Therefore, considering all of the above, instead of someone with no government experience, we should seek someone for the presidency who not only shares our political and social ideals, but also who we can trust to make the trains run on time. Our government is now an administrative state. It takes administering and navigating, and the ability to do that stems from specific government experience.
I know, Lincoln was a one-term congressman, and now he has his own memorial. It proves the point that a lack or dearth of experience doesn’t ensure anything. However you define it, success is also dictated by untested character traits, unforeseen events, and often serendipity. Yet I challenge you to tell me how a lack of experience in elected office will help in any of those aspects. Let's be clear. When we say, "lack of experience," inherent in that phrase is lack of knowledge. Yes, a candidate who has not held public office before may come bearing a long list of attributes (knowledge!) from their previous line(s) of work. Yet why must we force ourselves into believing that knowledge base will transfer to the uniqueness of federal service? There's no logical answer to that.
Finally, for all the romanticism placed on presidential candidates who haven't breathed the noxious fumes of the Potomac, there is one thing they will rarely do, and that is relinquish power they have been given. Doing so means necessarily returning power to the states. Experience, ah yes, experience, informs us that is unlikely.