T-Paw Smacks Bachmann… Sort of

In his latest attack ad, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty slams Obama hard on what is now regarded as undebatable fact: the Obama presidency is a dismal failure.   The reason, according to Pawlenty is “zero executive experience”.  This has his been T-Paw’s primary line of attack against the current conservative front runner, Michele Bachmann.  He hopes to bring attention to the consequences of electing an untested leader.   It seems like a valid argument, but history is on Pawlenty’s side only where this president is concerned.
Is “executive experience” really the problem?
The “executive experience” tactic just might work, propelling the governor to second or third place in the Ames straw poll.   The straw poll is a must-win for Pawlenty if he has any hopes of salvaging his campaign.  Unfortunately, the argument about executive experience falls short.  History has provided many presidents who lacked executive experience.  Some succeeded because they were the man for the times — Abraham Lincoln, for example.  Others succeeded because they had the political skills necessary to build coalitions to get things done.   What successful presidents who lacked “executive experience” did have however was an innate ability to lead.
What is leadership?
One of the strange twists in the unfortunate decline of the American Presidency is that getting into the office has become so much of an ideological beauty contest that we risk a succession of Roman fiddlers for what remains of our history.  Hillary Clinton in her primary campaign against Obama stressed her experience — eight years as First Lady and head of her husband’s secret health care nationalization committee.  Other than a few years service in the Senate, Ms. Clinton really didn’t have much more experience (that the public was aware of) than her opponent.   And yet, she might have been a much better president.   Perhaps, Ms. Clinton would have even been a more effective president than her husband.   If so, the reason is not “executive experience” — or even experience in general; it is leadership.
Leaders have many qualities, none of which are characteristic of the current occupant of the White House.  Among them, the ability to grow into the job, surround one’s self with people who can provide wise counsel — but strong enough to stand up to those people when it’s necessary.   Leaders need the ability to make hard decisions and stay with them even when they’re not politically popular.  Most of all, leaders need to recognize the difference between ideology and ideology that fits the circumstances.  Piling on four trillion more in debt for unnecessary programs and absurd “spending into prosperity” schemes is an example of Obama’s inability to focus his progressive ideology in a way that does good for the country. 
The “real issue”?
Like it or not, Pawlenty’s ad demonstrates just how dismal Obama’s record is.   But the conclusion that the problem is due to Obama’s lack of executive experience is useful only if he’s running against Michele Bachmann.   Obama has executive experience.   Three years worth of it.   Jimmy Carter had executive experience with much the same outcome.   Pawlenty should be attacking the real issue: ideology. 
An American Life: The AutobiographyRonald Reagan was successful as a president not because he was governor before, but because he was Reagan.  He was clear headed about his ideology, but didn’t surround himself with ideologues.   A variety of opinions from advisers who were themselves strong leaders gave Reagan the ability to make the decisions he had to.  Some of his decisions went against his core ideology.   And yet, that ideology won out in the end, bringing two decades of growth and prosperity, and an expansion of liberty in its wake.  Reagan had the charisma of Obama and the backbone of Lincoln and the respect of supporters and opponents alike.
We do not necessarily need a leader with “executive experience”.   We need a leader who has a core ideology and the backbone to put it into practice in a way that does good for the country.   We need a leader with a core ideology and the heart to recognize when merely digging in is merely digging a grave.  That leader may well be Tim Pawlenty.   But not because he was governor for awhile.   If he is the one, it will be because he is Tim Pawlenty — whatever that means.

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