The office of President of the United States of America was never supposed to be an easy position to ascertain. The Founding Fathers went to great lengths when they met in Philadelphia to establish a system that would ensure no man would have the ability to be elected who was not in the best interests of the United States. The electoral college system – a check on the impulsive voters of the newly formed nation – the age requirement, the citizenship clause and, a final check, the impeachment provisions, all guarantee that the best possible person will hold the office. In modern times, the demands on any presidential candidate have changed greatly. In the early years, if a candidate wanted a chance at serving as the constitutional President, he, yes he, would have had to either been involved in the revolution or in the writing of the Constitution itself.
In the year 2000, a presidential candidate will have a totally different set of difficulties to face. Fund raising and sound-bytes, primaries and public appearances, conventions and the campaign trail have become the giant steps on the road to the White House. The great paradox, however, is that the skills and talents needed to be elected are very different from the expertise needed to govern the richest and most powerful nation in the world. What will be required of a presidential candidate in the year 2000 if he or she wants to be elected ? First, he or she will need to be at least thirty-five years of age. Though there is no age maximum for a President, older candidates tend to have less appeal with the American people and more emphasis is placed on their Vice Presidential candidate with the assumption that the candidate, if elected, would die in office. Second, he or she must be a natural born American citizen. Third, a candidate will need to receive 270 electoral votes to be elected.
The three criteria above are the official, Constitutional requirements for a person to be elected to the Presidency. The modern day, unofficial requirements are much more difficult for a candidate to meet. According to Cronin and Genovese , a candidate has ten additional challenges to face, not including an opponent from the opposite or multiple other parties. The ability to raise money, some form of name recognition, having a favorable relationship with the press, travelling to major states, speaking engagements are all key to securing a national election. Fundraising has become the single most important element in the election process. Campaign fundraising for an upcoming election begins as soon as a current election has ended and, on the presidential scale, is a four-year project.
Contributions from corporations, private citizens, special interest groups, lobbyists and from China are all used by a political party to fund a presidential campaign. From a purely economic standpoint, it seems ridiculous to spend $61.8 million in government funds alone to be elected to an office that, at its absolute most, will pay only $1.6 million. However, the power and influence an Administration will have is seen as more than worth the expense. A first term President still needs to be adept at raising funds, especially if he sees himself running for and winning a second term. Second term Presidents often use their office to continue to raise funds for their partys congressional elections.
The need to raise money, however, is not a skill needed in governing our nation. Public speaking is a skill that is necessary for a year 2000 candidate and has also become a requirement for a President. In our age of media, every word a candidate or President utters is recorded somewhere and broadcast in to millions of homes around the world. Ronald Reagan, dubbed the great communicator, was one of the best public speakers the Presidency has ever seen. In the campaign of 1980, Reagan gave impassioned speeches around the nation proclaiming that government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
He used his communications skills to speak to every American and to appeal to the sense of optimism that all Americans have. Even the great orators of Presidential past, like Lincoln or the Roosevelts , would have struggled with the intrusive media that exists today. Many Lincoln biographers note that in the age of television, Abraham Lincoln, one of our best Presidents, might not have been elected. Public speaking is important once elected because that is when a President will announce new programs, try to sway Congressmen or appeal directly to the American people. The State of the Union Address is one of the most important speeches a President gives each year and the best Addresses are given by great orators like Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan.
When the Presidential job description is examined, it is easily noticeable that some duties do not coincide with the challenges of elections while others fit more easily. Crisis management is a skill used on both the governing and campaigning fronts but in different ways. Crisis management for the Clinton election team involved responding to allegations of draft-dodging and adultery whereas a Bush administration crisis was the Persian Gulf War. Symbolic leadership is more difficult to apply to a candidate. Candidates for election speak to what we, as Americans want from a President; they speak to our beliefs and to our goals and to our dreams.
Priority setting is simple for a candidate. The concerns of whatever group they happen to be addressing become the candidates number one priority for that particular minute. Once elected, who knows where milk prices will fall on the Presidential priority list but when a candidate is addressing the American Dairy Farmers, milk prices are number one. Legislative and political coalition building is important for a President whereas voter coalition building is important to a candidate. A President builds a legislative coalition by supporting opposing ideas in exchange for votes on crucial issues that he is pushing.
A candidate builds voter coalition by promising anything and everything; the trick is to take all the promises made during a campaign and comprise an agenda for an Administration. Program implementation is a role that falls squarely on the President, not the candidate. A candidate may hint as to what programs he or she would like to implement if elected, specific details tend to be few and far between while on the campaign trail. Lastly, government oversight is a duty that only the President can have. A person seeking the office is usually not involved in the government and could not be involved in oversight. Often times, we look at candidates based on what they are doing while campaigning for the office of President.
We watch the evening news and see a thirty second clip of a twenty minute speech and base our opinion of a candidate on that. They look good in debates, they are out kissing babies and shaking hands, they appear to be common-folk, they would make a good President, right ? In some cases, wrong. The ability to campaign is important to getting elected but the legacy of the President is determined by what they do when elected, not by their campaign. If the greatest man in the world ran a terrible campaign, did not raise the needed money, or could not meet the rigorous public appearance schedule, he would not get elected. However, the worst man in the world could run a beautiful campaign. He could have a huge campaign war chest, appeal to everyone, hold a whistle-stop train tour around the nation, get elected and turn out as the worst person to ever hold the office. We look at how they campaign, not at how they will actually run the country.
We hear their words but are blind to their past actions. That is the great paradox.