Disclosure and Asking the Right Questions
Are we asking for the right information about the qualifications for the next commander-in-chief? I don't think so and this is particularly true with respect to essential records like college transcripts, criminal history, job dismissals, substance abuse and military service.
As Ted Cruz recently was reminded, the Constitution has only two minimal requirements for the presidency: be a natural born citizen and live for thirty-five years. Cruz's birth in Calgary, Canada to an American mother is now the subject of quite a lot of highbrow constitutional debate and enough political dust kicking as to be a key topic in Iowa's forthcoming caucus. Cruz, a Harvard Law grad, would be politically smart to point out that for all Trump's grandiosity, by birth and temperament, he will always be just another outer-borough boy, and not even a hip Brooklynite, for that matter. Trump, like Archie Bunker, and the actor who portrayed him as well as Art Garfunkel were all born in Queens.
For everyone other than Cruz, the bare bones two-part Constitutional test is not particularly rigorous, as even my most conspiracy-minded and erratic relatives, generally males well over 35, and virtually all other candidates seem to meet the challenge. I also thought that an "unofficial" requirement is that an immediate relative must have been president, but some recent poll numbers dispute that. Luckily, despite the recent media frenzy around Marco Rubio's footwear, shoe selection appears an optional data point for the public to assess. In contrast, pathological doses of narcissism and having a lot of money or rich friends appear to be recurring unofficial requirements.
Other than the perks, why anyone would spend hundreds of millions for a job that pays $400,000 is beyond me. Only academics have a worse return on investment, and many still contend that we're overpaid. In addition to being leader of the free world, presidents do get to throw out the first pitch on opening day, possess the nuclear launch code, screen Star Wars at home and order the vice president to distant funerals.
Because the public views the presidency as the world's most critical job, with the possible exception of Apple's Chief Design Officer or Megyn Kelly's publicist, there is a communal interest in objective information about the candidates. For many government jobs, including mine, a transcript is required, along with a lot of background information.
Our Founders Valued Education As Key To Service
Our founders contended education is critical to citizenship and public service. Thomas Jefferson highlighted his founding of the University of Virginia on his tombstone and left off his presidency. Ben Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania because education is crucial not only to personal development, but to national and community service:
The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.
Sometimes Donald Trump is Right and He Should Follow His Own Counsel
Four years ago, Donald Trump, a Penn graduate, who routinely tells crowds how smart he is, rightly demanded that President Obama release his transcripts. Now he and all the candidates should do the same. As I wrote in 2012:
While there are certainly plausible reasons to keep personal information about public figures private, in this case disclosure serves compelling purposes. It fills in an informational void about a candidate's educational exposure, inclinations and performance. It also sends a message to those now in college, that their efforts are recognized. Society, as the founders intended, should put a high degree of importance on education as an important building block for citizenship itself. It also gives the voter an idea of what basic knowledge the candidate may have in areas they consider relevant to presidential service. Such classes need not only be directly "pre-professional" courses like accounting, economics, or international relations or a foreign language, but others that make a person connected to the greater world around them, like literature, art and history.
To be sure, there are millions of people who serve the country or achieve success for themselves and their community in a variety of ways without a college degree at all.... There are billionaires like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs who never obtained degrees. Two of our most beloved leaders, Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman, never earned degrees..."
With all the spin, misinformation, and distractions, objective information about who the candidates are, what they did, and how they came to be is critical to our understanding of them and whether they should garner our vote. The media and public should ask candidates to publish their undergraduate and graduate transcripts, military and employment information, limited health records, and answer whether they've been charged with a crime, among other things. Employers ask such things of CEOs and pro athletes routinely, for far less important jobs. The next president will likely ask for such information of those who will work for him or her, and as the president's employer, we have an interest in asking the same of them. I hope someone asks for this essential information in upcoming debates.
How to vote
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General Election: Nov 3, 2020
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