Does Experience Matter in Politics?

Rayner Reinhardt, Staff Writer

The strange paradox of politics is that while the positions filled are those of an important nature, there are no specific experience qualifications. We often view candidates with many years of experiences in Washington, but recently we’ve seen those with none whatsoever.

As a 15-year old whose only recently grasped an understanding and an interest for the “mess on Washington,” I am new to the idea of candidates without years of experience. I look on the Republican debate stage and see a businessman, a neurosurgeon, and a technology business executive, and I think, “Why are they there?” I always thought that America would want someone who’s experienced and know’s what they’re doing in the White House, just like any other job would look for. And, that seems like what it was, for at least a while. You look back only a little while ago and see the Bush and Clinton establishments, who certainly were not outsiders. It seems to me that the public opinion on political leaders is changing, and changing rapidly.

The Founding Fathers, in an effort to avoid factions, encouraged a variety of backgrounds in the government. Thinking objectively, a government that is made up of the personas of the people may represent them best. For example, a government of teachers, farmers, and veterans, probably relate to and therefore know what’s best for the teachers, farmers, and veterans of the country.

Since 1980, only nine Democratic Senators have been elected without any previous office experience. Only fifteen Republicans have done the same. These are surprisingly low numbers, especially since the public is calling out the politicians who have been involved in the government for so long, such as Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton.

John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States, is one of the most praised for his job in the White House. Many supported his decisions and say they reflected the values of America at that time. Before entering the presidential race, Kennedy already had thirteen years of political experience in Congress. His deep understanding of the government may be credited to the knowledge he had already gained.

On the other hand, our most recent president, Barack Obama entered the White house with only being Senator of Illinois for one term. Even though he receives criticism, like any politician to be honest, we observe a president with a deep knowledge of American policy.

If we examine this year’s race for the White House we, again, see both sides of the argument. On the Democratic side, Secretary Hillary Clinton is leading with the most wins. The public knows that she’s a very established and experienced politician that happens to be married to former-President Bill Clinton. On the contrary, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, has no political experience and only a background in business. Both party leaders represent the extremes of the situation and provide two completely different answers to the question I’m asking. On one hand, people want a well experienced leader who shows a deep knowledge for the government, and on the other, Americans want a whole new approach to the government.

The term ‘outsider’ is a slippery slope. Evidently, everyone is an outsider until they become an insider. The answer to when being an outsider is good, relies on the level of government one is looking at. If they’re talking about the Oval Office, then, personally, I don’t think someone with absolutely no experience is appropriate. Former president Ronald Reagan was elected only after serving as the governor of California. Before that, he was a B-movie actor. Reagan had one of the highest approval ratings when leaving office, which showed that his performance with only a little political background served well.

Then, there are presidents who have had no political experience at all, such as Herbert Hoover. Coming out of the office, Hoover was known as the poor communicator who fueled trade wars… and let the Great Depression happen on his watch. These tragedies while in office may be attributed to his overall lack of knowledge about the political system. It’s almost like giving a 5-year old a new bike and telling them to ride it for the first time.

Aside from the Presidency, there are, of course, lower levels of government. Starting with gubernatorial offices, as of 2016, 20% of governors were elected with no previous political involvement. This has been a pattern, as earlier governors were elected without experience as well. Moving on to Congress, as stated earlier, only nine senators in the history of the United states have been elected without any experience. It seems that the higher the office, the more experience one needs to win the favor of the constituents.

Coming to a conclusion was not so easy for me because of the makeup of the government. The levels of government and the power within those levels account for differences in elections. An outsider may be acceptable in lower offices, but higher offices require more experience.

This can directly correlate to the business world. A CEO has more job requirements than say, a bus boy. Pertaining to this particular presidential race, I conclude that we cannot have an outsider. Looking back on Hoover, I guarantee that Trump won’t be any better. As the United States moves into the new generations, we seem to want less and less government. This idea contributes to the uproar of Trump fans, or even Sanders fans, because they back a candidate not involved with the ‘establishment.’ Although, we don’t want the government to barge in on all of our life, at the very least we have to have people involved in the government who know what they’re doing.