THE BLOG
10/28/2013 11:29 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Relevant Experience Becoming a Political Liability

A waiter hands you the menu while mentioning, "Our chef has never taken a cooking class in his life. After 20 years of owning a successful construction company, he just decided that other people don't know how to cook. This is his first day on the job and we've never tasted a single dish he's prepared but he tells us great stories about how he made a fortune as a job creator." You immediately: (a) say, "Fantastic! Let me order the $100 filet mignon." or (b) reach for your coat.

Time to have that surgery you've been avoiding for years. Right before the anesthetist places the mask over your face she whispers, "This is the surgeon's first operation ever. He never went to med school or residency but he has watched the first season of Nip/Tuck and knows every joke from M.A.S.H. by heart. We all call him Hawkeye." You immediately: (a) say, "Why not? I have a terrific life insurance policy so my family will benefit if anything goes wrong." or (b) jump off the operating table.

Your twins are starting their first day in kindergarten. The teacher greets your children at the classroom door enthusiastically. You smile while saying, "My twins are so excited for their first day at school." She immediately replies, "Me too. This is my first day teaching. I was thrilled to get this job, since I have no teaching degree, never took teaching classes and dropped out of school myself. Anywho! Let's learn." You: (a) say, "Best thing possible for my kids. I also hope no one forces some overbearing government regulation like requiring the bus driver to have a license." or (b) immediately start looking for a different school.

Politics often seems to be a different animal. At the local and national level, we are seeing the adulation of political candidates who proudly pound their chests pronouncing they have "no political background or experience". Some of these newcomers state with great joy that they haven't voted themselves in years, explaining that they previously ignored elections because they didn't believe in politics before, but, now that they are a candidate they will selflessly represent the populace. Emboldened with financial backing from themselves, wealthy friends, family or party money, they dive into the political scene.

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If elected, they often pride themselves on being an iconoclast while doing their best to draw attention to themselves. While conformity in a broken system is nothing to celebrate, simply jumping up and down to gain the media spotlight and set yourself up for a good TV position or prominent lobbying job when your term is over (or when you prematurely resign) doesn't help the public.

Experience isn't always a benefit but it at least provides voters with some understanding of the person's history and what they might do if elected. Bringing in career political hacks to provide "more of the same" can often add little value as they may be too mired in the inertia of their own political baggage or planning their reelection campaign in the first few weeks of their arrival.

Politics seems to be one of the few places where a lack of experience, or even more, a disdain for experience, is being treated as an asset rather than a liability. As we watch national level politicians with no relevant experience, keep in mind that enough voters heard the candidates stump speeches and decided, "Yes, I want that person as my representative" rather than choose to leave the restaurant, jump off the operating table or look for a different school.

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Note: In a previous post, it was shown that there are very few variables that are statistically significant in predicting presidential excellence. Specifically, neither educational background, political experience, business experience nor military experience itself was a strong predictor of presidential quality. There was one statistically significant interaction term though it had only a limited amount of predictive power: those who had both military and business experience before becoming president tended to perform well (think of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman).

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