What’s Wrong With Hillary?

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Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings are lower than any other candidate in the history of presidential politics, except for one – Donald Trump. It’s not surprising that Trump’s ego-centric, bombastic, bullying demagoguery is off-putting to a large segment of voters, but what is it that causes the same type of visceral negative reaction toward Clinton?

After all, few candidates have ever been as qualified by experience to be president as is Clinton. Hillary’s professional life as a lawyer, First Lady of Arkansas and then in the White House; followed by twice being elected United States senator from New York; almost becoming the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 and then serving four years as Secretary of State, has positioned her to become the first woman president. In building her qualifications, Hillary has followed the same formula and has done what all the men before her have done to become president. In contrast, Obama had far fewer experiences and qualifications to become the first black president, beyond the fact that he is black.  

The problem for Hillary is that many Americans believe it will take more than simply being qualified to function as a president to earn their vote. There are those who, in fact, believe that her panoply of public experiences actually disqualifies her to be president. Clinton is seen as manipulative, scheming, calculating, unscrupulous and devious. In other words, Clinton is identified as a consummate professional politician. Unfortunately for her, such a moniker comes at a time when professional politicians are looked upon with little more than disdain and scorn.  But there is something different in the attitude toward Hillary. After all, Bernie Sanders has been in politics just a long as Clinton (and is far more liberal) and yet he is not identified or despised as a politician. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because scandals of one type or another have dogged Clinton’s history. Hillary haters have accused her of being complicit in all sorts of scurrilous activity that has run the gamut from illegal land deals, Filegate, involvement in the death of aide Vincent Foster, pimping for her husband, being personally responsible for the Benghazi attacks and using a secret (and illegal) private email system when Secretary of State. It seems of little matter to the Hillary detractors that there has never been any credible evidence of illegal activity on her part and the results of every investigation into the supposed skulduggery have fully exonerated her of any intentional wrong-doing.

Hills for Hillary to Climb

The first challenge for Hillary to overcome is the tsunami of anti-establishment feeling triggered by a seismic disconnection of the voters and politicians. People are simply put-off by what they see as the same old same old from professional politicians. Clinton worked hard to become the epitome of an establishment politician because that has always been the game plan men have followed to become president. But voters have signaled that they are in search of an option – any option – to what they see as the pandering promises and failure of establishment politicians to address the important issues facing the country.  

This wave of frustration and dissatisfaction engulfed all of the qualified establishment candidates in the Republican primaries and drove them from the race. Trump won the Republican nomination, not because of his experience, intellect or clearly defined workable policies, but because he was the most anti-establishment candidate the voters could find. As for Hillary, her failure to secure the Democratic nomination until the very end of the primaries is clear evidence that the anti-establishment feeling of the voters crosses Party lines. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have few policy differences, but Sanders made the nomination a battle because votes for him were seen as a way for Democratic voters to express anti-establishment feelings. Had it not been for Democratic Party rules that tilted heavily in favor of a candidate favored by the establishment, Hillary may have even lost the nomination.

There is an even steeper hill for Hillary to climb if she is to become the first woman elected president. Despite the progress that has been made by women – especially in business – there is still a silent, deep-seated gender bias against strong women in power. This prejudice is not about “equality,” as women do have legal equal rights (although it does show up in the lack of equal pay), but it is about power. There is an undertow of chauvinism that still exists when it comes to women in power; especially in politics. Interestingly, this prejudice against women seeking political power is practiced equally by men and women.  

Certainly Clinton is manipulative, scheming, calculating and devious and will prevaricate when she thinks it is in her own best interests. But, what is unique about that? Every other male candidate for president could be described by using the exact same adjectives. The truth is that a candidate cannot be elected president, unless they are that way. Do you think that men running for president have not been embroiled in scandals? (The list is too long to detail here, but Google “presidential candidate scandals” to see how common they are.) Of course you need go no further than the scandals of Donald Trump to get the idea. So why is it that the scandals of Trump are virtually ignored, while the scandals of Clinton are considered a disqualifier? Why is Clinton held to a higher standard? It is because she is a woman seeking power in an area that has been (and still is) considered the purview of the male.

Be honest: Do you think that Trump could have gotten away with his antics, slurs and bully tactics if he were a woman? When a man seeks to gain or use political power by being manipulative, scheming, calculating and devious, what is he called? A leader. When an experienced, strong woman seeks power doing the same thing, what is she called? I don’t have to tell you, you know the answer.

If a man who possessed the background and experience of Clinton were running against another man with Trump’s temperament, background and experience (or lack thereof) the election would not even be close. This is not to suggest that Clinton should or will be elected president, but if she were male, there is little doubt that “he” would win.

America Needs a Business Leader Like Trump to Break the Dysfunction in Government … Or Do We?

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There is no doubt that Americans are frustrated with a government that seems mired in a deepening cycle of dysfunction. Large and small issues become bogged down in petty politics, trivia and procedure. Legislative activity often moves at the speed of someone rollerblading through a swamp.  

It is natural to assume that this inability of government to function effectively is the result of a political disease that has infected government and impaired its ability to act. There is also the belief that we are suffering from some type of new government phenomenon caused by the 24-hour, politically tilted cable news, special interest groups, blogs galore and dump truck loads of political contributions, all attempting to influence the actions of government. In response to these frustrations people begin to believe that the answer can be found by turning to a government outsider; preferably a successful business person. The belief (hope) is that a leader not previously entangled in government and one who has been successful running a successful business is the type of person who can eliminate the dysfunction in government. But a dysfunctional government may not be all that evil.

Government is Working the Way it Was Intended to Work

What we are witnessing is exactly the way our government was intended to function and, for the most part, has since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788. Much to their credit and our benefit, the framers of the constitution specifically and intentionally created a government designed to be “dysfunctional.” That is to say, a government that is prevented from operating like a well-oiled business that churns out legislation with the ease of a goose with diarrhea. Those who drafted our constitution rightly feared a government that was efficient and effective, because they knew from experience that this opened the door to tyranny and loss of freedom.

As a result, with few exceptions, every major decision or issue faced by our government in the past 225 years has been resolved in a dysfunctional manner, often taking years or even decades to resolve; all because our system required that all sides of an issue should be heard. That’s the inherent beauty of our constitution: Decisions are made only after careful and thoughtful deliberation—not by imperial edict. It may not be pretty, and it can be messy, but it works as intended to protect our freedoms.

What Happens When Legislative Scrutiny is Diminished?

Most of the poor (and dangerous) decisions that have been made by our government came at a time when one party had overwhelming control of  government, giving them the efficiency of legislative clout to implement their plans with almost unfettered impunity. One classic example of this was the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, when the Federalists under John Adams were in virtual control of the government. Among other things, these laws made it illegal to even criticize the government. That may seem laughable to think such acts could be passed today; and they can’t—so long as the government remains dysfunctional and deliberative. Deliberation gives time for passions to cool, options to be considered and for reason to prevail. As American statesman and Senator Henry Clay once said, “Time is always reason’s greatest ally.” (There is a difference between deliberation and obstruction, but that is for another discussion.)

Desperate for a Solution

The current frustration and impatience with a dysfunctional government has intensified the belief that  by electing a government outsider and successful business person as president, we will be able to solve the problems of government. It is an alluring and tempting argument.


In the 230 years of American history, hundreds of successful business entrepreneurs have built immensely successful corporate empires that became the drivers of the greatest economic growth in the history of the world. But despite their power and prominence in American society; none of them were ever elected president. America has elected 44 men to be President. There have been lawyers (far too many), soldiers, farmers, teachers, career politicians and even one actor, but not one was a successful corporate capitalist. And it is not as if there is a shortage of potential business candidates who would seem to fit the bill to be president.

The list of great American capitalists is too long to list here, but we all know of many: Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, John J. Astor, E.H. Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Hearst, Andrew Mellon, Warren Buffet, Sam Walton, and Bill Gates.  Without a doubt, all of these individuals – and scores more like them – were exceptional leaders, possessing unique vision and perspective. And yet, in over two centuries – during economic times even more tumultuous than now – the country never once looked to any of them for presidential leadership.

Government is not a Business

There are those who sincerely believe that the problems with dysfunctional government would be solved if government was run as a business by a business person. But the reality is that government is not intended to be a business. The objectives of government are distinctly different from the goals of business. The purpose of government is to be passionate about the welfare of all its people; the objective of business is to be passionate about the welfare of its shareholders. The leadership mentality needed to make government function properly is the antithesis of the leadership temperament needed to run a business.

The power and structure in government is (at least it’s supposed to be) bottom-up where needs and actions of the many filter up through a series of checks and balances, shared power, and divergent interests. Conversely, the power and structure in business is top-down: direction, decisions and actions are dictated, not debated. A CEO in business has the focused, specific power granted by the few (board of directors) to set priorities, make decisions, implement plans and direct the actions of all others; all with the single objective of profit for shareholders.

The favored attributes of a CEO are laser focus on specific actions to increase profits, efficient input-output analysis, decisive decision making and an impatience to get things done that translates into a sense of urgency. The favored attributes of a government leader are a focus on the broad ideology of the purpose of government, the patience to hear the views of many, the ability to cajole diverse centers of power to coalesce to take action and the skill to build broad coalitions that are willing to work together for the benefit of the many, not the few.

Sometimes dysfunction in government can be a good thing. It forces those in power to be open to deliberation, explain and justify actions. In government this type “dysfunction” reduces the possibility of taking rash actions in an atmosphere of passion or political expediency. As frustrated as we are with a dysfunctional government, we might want to consider if the best response is to elect a business person with a proclivity for bombast and a willingness to propose rash actions in an atmosphere of heated passion and political expediency.

Is Trump Qualified to be President?

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Now that it is fairly certain – if anything can be certain in this election cycle – that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the election, the debate is shifting to the fundamental question of whether or not Trump is even qualified to be president. Aside from complaining about his free-wheeling, bombastic style and simplistic approach to problems, those who have opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump argue that he simply lacks the credentials to be president of the United States. Of course, this raises the obvious question: Exactly what are the qualifications to be president?

There is a clear dichotomy existing in this year’s presidential election. On the one hand you have Hillary Clinton who some argue is the most qualified person to ever run for president. At the same time, there is scant evidence that Trump has the necessary experience, knowledge, temperament or talent needed to be successful as president. Many suggest that Trump may be the least qualified person to ever run for president.

Looking back, Hillary has been on a 40 year campaign to accumulate the credentials that will qualify her to be president. Working either with or in government, she has been a successful lawyer; was sort of a co-president in the White House for eight years observing the activities (well not all of them) of her husband Bill Clinton and then moved on to be a senator and served as Secretary of State under President Obama. During her career Clinton has gained the knowledge and experience as to how government works at the state, federal and international levels. As for Trump, he has spent the past 40 years grubbing for real estate deals, chasing women, running beauty contests and gambling casinos, fighting lawsuits, learning the particulars of divorce and bankruptcy law, promulgating conspiracy theories, doing credit card commercials and starring as a reality TV show host.

If we could take politics and emotion out of the equation (which we can’t) and decide our vote on the basis of which candidate has the most relevant experience and knowledge to take on the rigors and responsibilities of the presidency, the clear choice would be Hillary Clinton. There is only one problem with this approach to picking a president: History has proven that no matter how qualified or unqualified an individual may seem to be, there is no way to really know if a person is qualified to be president until they are president.   

Political scientists suggest that the scope, pressures, stress and responsibility of the presidency has become so consuming that no individual – regardless of their experience or knowledge – is qualified to be president when they become president. If so, this triggers a different way to asses a candidate: Does the individual have the capacity to grow into the presidency once elected?

So if not Experience then What?

The fallback position for those who look beyond experience to determine if a person is qualified to be president suggest that “character” should be the determining factor, but that approach has a clear weakness. If Trump and Clinton are judged based on the purity of their character, they both might lose. The truth is that some of our most popular and successful presidents had closets full of character flaws. The truth is that one cannot become president – let alone a successful one – relying on the purity of character. If an individual is not calculating, cunning and ruthless when necessary they are not, by definition, qualified to hold the highest office in the land.   

But back to the basic question: Is Trump qualified to be president?

Ronald Reagan is the closest parallel to Trump. As a presidential candidate Reagan was deemed “not ready for prime time.” Reagan’s experience was derided as no more than being a bad actor and a slick salesman. He was a life-long liberal Democrat who claimed to have converted to a conservative Republican. (He was also a well know womanizer.) His campaign theme was to make America once again a “shinning city on upon a hill.” (Sound familiar?) Opponents disparaged as “simplistic” his answers to difficult problems and mocked his single-minded focus on defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War; calling him “a trigger-happy cowboy.”

By most standards – especially among Republicans – Reagan is considered to have been a successful president. Looking back, it turns out that Reagan’s lack of experience was irrelevant and his perceived weaknesses turned out to be his strengths. Because he was not philosophically rigid in his political beliefs he was able to work with and strike deals with even his most ardent opponents. Reagan’s training as a radio personality, actor and pitchman for GE and, of all things, Borax Soap, created the “great communicator” who may have even surpassed Franklin Roosevelt, when it came to selling his message to people. Above all, Reagan’s dogged effort to defeat what he called the “evil empire” and end the Cold War not only appealed to but resonated with the people.

I am not suggesting that Trump is the reincarnation of Reagan, but even his most ardent detractors can’t deny the parallels. Trump was a philosophical Democrat, long before he was a registered Republican. In his business deals he has worked effectively with both Republicans and Democrats. Trump’s campaign theme of “Make America Great Again” is a direct echo of Reagan’s message. When it comes to communicating, marketing, branding and pure huckster salesmanship, no politician alive can match Trump. It is not clear yet, but Trump’s “evil empire” may be his call for “America first” in all areas such as trade, military entanglements, immigration and international relationships. All of these talents were on full display as Trump decimated a large field of “qualified” candidates to improbably win the Republican nomination.  

This does not mean that Trump is qualified to be president, let alone a successful one, but it does suggest that in this modern media-centric world, the ability to work with rivals, communicate, market and brand your ideas effectively is even more important than it was in Reagan’s time. These talents and experiences may be the new normal when it comes to qualifications to be president. And it’s fair to point out that these are not talents gained from 40 years in government.

Is Trump qualified to be president? Not if he is judged by the traditional standards of presidential qualifications; in that case the nod goes to Clinton. But what if the traditional way to measure one’s qualifications for the presidency have become as outdated as the process of nominating a candidate? What this all comes down to is that we will not know if Trump is qualified to be president unless he is elected president. The real question is: Are voters willing to take the risk to determine if Trump really is qualified to be president?