In the midst of an article about Mario Cuomo, James Fallows addresses something that gets too little attention.
National office in the modern United States—the presidency, or a serious candidacy for it—requires a broader range of skills than any real human being has ever possessed…
To succeed fully in national leadership a person would in principle need to be as shrewd a manipulator as Lyndon Johnson, as confidently patient a commander as Dwight Eisenhower, as quickly intelligent as John F. Kennedy; as publicly sunny as Ronald Reagan; as fundamentally sane as Gerald Ford—you get the idea.
When choosing a president, we usually assume that we should simply support the candidate that most closely aligns with the policies we support. But it is often the mix of skills each candidate possesses from the list Fallows identifies (as well as others) that determine whether or not they will be successful in implementing those policies.
Back in 2007 when the Democratic primary looked to be a contest between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, Mark Schmitt wrote a fascinating article along these lines suggesting that we were witnessing the first “Theory of Change” primary.
This is not a primary about ideological differences, or electability, but rather one about a difference in candidates’ implicit assumptions about the current circumstance and how the levers of power can be used to get the country back on track.
I’ll let you read the rest of the article to see how he perceived the difference between those three candidates’ theory of change. But he was right – they had radically different approaches based on their own unique personalities and set of skills.
We don’t know yet who will enter the 2016 presidential contest. And the first screen is always about how their policies align with our own preferences. But I would suggest that is a necessary – but insufficient – test for how they will perform in office.