Who’s Qualified?

by Don Boudreaux on September 29, 2008

in Myths and Fallacies, Politics

Fareed Zakaria (author of a truly fine book and columnist for the Washington Post) rightly argues that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president of the United States (and, hence, by extension, unqualified to be V-P).  Mr. Zakaria is correct that Gov. Palin’s recent answer to a question about the economy “is nonsense – a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head.”  He’s correct also that she’s unfit to be entrusted with the power of the modern presidency.

But Mr. Zakaria is incorrect to suppose that these traits separate Gov. Palin from other candidates for high political office.  Calls by Senators McCain and Obama for cracking down on “speculators” are full of classic and wrongheaded catchphrases, as is Sen. Obama’s vocal skepticism about free trade.  Gov. Palin is merely less skilled in passing off inanities and claptrap as profundities.

More importantly, no one is or ever can be “ready” or “qualified” to exercise power of the sort that is concentrated today in Washington.  A country of 300 million persons, each with his or her own unique desires, talents, and knowledge, cannot be wisely regulated in the detail and intrusiveness demanded by the modern state.

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Oil Shock September 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

More significant is the self admission by McCain that he knows nothing about the economy. Even more dangerous, Obama thinks he can turn knobs, push buttons, pull levers and goose money supply ( Friedmanesque ) and make economy dance to his tunes.

Economy is not a laboratory experiment.

Sam Grove September 29, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Sarah didn't fare well in her politicians class on dissembling.

Oil Shock September 29, 2008 at 12:55 pm

BTW, here is that old senator from Alaska Mike Gravel on Sarah Palin's experience. I agree with him. Great thing going for Sarah is the lack of experience.

Captain Quirk September 29, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Your observation makes no sense. You are saying the following:

When faced with a difficult or impossible problem, hire the most incompetent or lesser competent person.

It doesn't matter what the scope of the problem is, your observation is just plain dumb.

David Friedman September 29, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Part of your post is now the "quote of the month" on my web page.

Shaker September 29, 2008 at 2:05 pm

This is an inane posting. Boudreaux sounds just like the idiotic Nader voters in 2000 who tried to argue that there were no differences between Bush and Gore. Regardless of which candidate you preferred, it's clear that there were major differences. The response to 9/11 would have been very different under Gore (one can argue ad nauseum about better or worse, but there is little doubt that it would have been different).

Palin's "qualification" problem is less a matter of experience and more of character. It comes down to a question of whether or not she displays the capacity AND willingness to learn about new things, wrestle with complicated issues and think through problems to develop a policy response particularly as information contradicting a particular world view becomes known. I think her lack of "qualification" comes from failure to display these attributes which would be the case with any ideologue.

Bush has always been labeled "stupid" which was never the case and a poor tactic to boot. However, he is incredibly lazy, both intellectually and otherwise. And it's his laziness that lies at the heart of the administration's various failings.

Sam Grove September 29, 2008 at 2:19 pm

The response to 9/11 would have been very different under Gore

VERY different?
Please explain.
You do understand that Paul Wolfowitz was in the Clinton administration, don't you?
Do you recall Clinton launching 70 cruise missiles into Lebanon?

I'm sure Gore's response would have been different, but I'm wondering how different.

John Smith September 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm

"Words from politicians are like incantations. You’re not supposed to ask exactly how an alleged government solution will work. You’re just supposed to feel reassured. The well-meaning politicians and their experts have things under control. No need to worry. Nothing to see here. Move along."

— Sheldon Richman

AND one of my favorites……

“The complexity of financial markets is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. Trying to make these markets safe through government management is as sensible as waving a magic wand while chanting "abracadabra." ”

— Sheldon Richman

Sam Grove September 29, 2008 at 2:48 pm

The government's magic wand is made of metal and fires projectiles at high velocity.

Paul Lemle September 29, 2008 at 6:44 pm

I have to say I don't agree with Dr. Boudreaux regarding qualifications for the Presidency. It's like the old tale of the bear chasing two friends. You don't have to be faster than the bear; you just have to be faster than your buddy.

It's obvious now to every impartial observer that Obama and Biden are "faster" than McCain and Palin. They clearly have their campaign more together, and Palin's intellect is a deal-breaker with McCain's age and health history.

I've been meaning to ask Dr. Boudreaux for a while: Julian Simon ain't running, so for whom ARE you voting?

Don Boudreaux September 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

I don't vote. I refuse to participate in the farce; I refuse to glorify the process of choosing my own poison by wasting my precious time choosing which poisonous beast gets to exercise power over me and my fellow citizens for the next four years.

Louia Wheeler September 29, 2008 at 10:04 pm

It was a loaded question. It assumed that using the government to bailout individuals for health care, housing, gas and groceries is okay but using a bailout for financial institutions is not

What are the consequences of each, if there is no bailout? The individual scrimps, saves or does without. On the other hand, we are warned that the Financial institutions will go out of business, credit will dry up, so that many businesses will fold. That means that this individual could lose his job. What you have here is a Personal problem vs a potential depression. Which is worse?

The problem is that Sarah Palin is not in charge, John McCain is and he had not made up his mind yet what the proper solution is. Nor should he, because the Congress has not yet passed a bill. The devil of the bailout is in the details. Katie Couric was asking a premature question, but it was not phrased in a rhetorical sense.

The Local Bankers that I have talked to say that the government should let Bear-Sterns and the other financial companies fold. I'm not an economist, nor is Sarah Palin. I'm not sure what is the proper course when there are so many conflicting voices.

This was a biased question. If Sarah Palin defended the bailout then she looked like she was against Americans who were struggling. If she proposed another bailout of the poor, she would be going back on her conservative values. Either way, she was screwed.

Unfortunately, Sarah hasn't started laughing in the face of the Media when they ask a ridiculous or slanted questions. The Media is often bigoted, biased and ignorant, but that's okay as long this hurts the Republicans.

Ranjit Mathoda September 29, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Mr. Obama is actually well aware of the benefits of free trade. He sees people's concerns with free trade as an outlet for their general economic fears. I describe his perspectives on trade in my concise but thorough review of his book The Audacity of Hope: http://mathoda.com/archives/174

Ryan September 29, 2008 at 11:55 pm

I've enjoyed reading Fareed Zakaria's work for a long time now. I don't always agree with him, but he comes of as a truly honest and intelligent person.

The Post-American World was a particularly entertaining book.

jay c September 30, 2008 at 10:26 am

I agree completely. Palin isn't a good choice, but she's better than those other buffoons. Especially Obama. The United States screwed themselves when they failed to nominate Ron Paul for president. And anyone who thinks there is a truly meaningful difference in the details of how Gore would have furthered the decline of Liberty vs how Bush actually did it is fooling himself.

vidyohs September 30, 2008 at 10:42 am

Wasn't it Harry Truman that said, "There is no experience that will prepare or qualify a man for this job."

In short, all newly elected presidents go into immediate OJT the moment they are sworn in. Some get it, some don't get it as well, and some (Carter comes to mind) never get it.

I laugh when I hear or read people's nattering about qualifications for president.

prabhakar September 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm

every ones bull shitting thats ok – but we dont need an delusional nut in the most powerful office bombing people and creating catastrophe – the world is already feeling the pain – no more damage please – obama is bs ing pretty good but i guess he would be more balanced and not a war monger

vidyohs September 30, 2008 at 7:50 pm

You're shitting us prabhakar, aren't you?

Obama doesn't know enough to be balanced and as for war monger, in general here in America the supreme office runs the man more than the man runs the office. Only the truly delusional never figure that out.

anomdebus September 30, 2008 at 11:05 pm

Or another source:
"You can argue that nobody is ready to be President," the former President told ABC News.

"You can argue that even if you've been vice president for eight years, that no one can be fully ready for the pressures of the office," Clinton said Monday.

Dmat October 1, 2008 at 3:03 am

By your logic then one would conclude that of those 300 million americans each one is not qualified and hence since noone is qualified, anyone can be the president. It is true that there is no training for the job of presidency but there is training for analytical reasoning, for open minded thinking, for positive action and for seeing situations realistically and clearly. And although there are no 100% qualified people, there are people who are qualified than others and it is in this context that the criticism of Sarah palin arises. Her level of qualification for the understanding and the understanding itself of issues that request a President or a VP's constant attention is fairly low in comparison to other candidates. This does not mean they are absolutely qualified but they are better qualified for sure.

vidyohs October 1, 2008 at 6:16 am


In essence yes, there is training especially in ability to think and analyze that will help a new president, help anyone for that matter.

VP Garner (FDR's VP) said, "The opffice isn't worth a bucket of warm spit." So, unless the president dies the VP doesn't serve much function except P & R for his administration and nation.

Considering the lack of qualifications (left-wing ideology is proof of mental brokenness) displayed by Biden over the years, I think Palin has shown more ability to think rationally in the ways I admire.

Considering the lack of qualifications (left-wing idology plus racist hatred of whites) displayed by Obama over the years, I think Palin would make a better president in neutral circumstances…..but with our left-wing MSM that neutral circumstances do not exist. The MSM will crucify her as they will McCain if he wins. It will be four more years of BBQing the president in the media.

A lawyer married to a lawyer, both of whom received special privilege in education and employment because of race yet hate the nation and its majority…..Obama. Who will Obama talk to for advice about the economy, the markets? Everyone around him have zero clue, and even in pillow talk he'll get fucked up advice.

My opinion.

vidyohs October 1, 2008 at 6:18 am


VP Garner (FDR's VP) said, "The opffice isn't worth a bucket of warm spit."

that should read "office", not too many opffices around.

dg lesvic October 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

The “liberals” devotion to democracy, like that of the fascists, is but a means to ending it, and antipathy to the greed of the capitalists, or Jews, the beginning of the end.

The call for more regulation is really for more dictatorship. For if we couldn’t be trusted with our own choices in the market, neither could we be trusted with them in the polling booth, or anywhere else. We’d need a Henry Paulson, if not a Hitler or Stalin, to make all our choices for us, political and religious, as well as financial.

While the giggling capitalist, Warren Buffet, would trust Mr. Paulson to spend our money wisely and well, the somewhat more sober Thomas Jefferson would “hear no more of trust in men, but bind them down with the chains of the Constitution.”

This is looking more and more like a replay of the thirties. Then as now, “regulation” was strangulation. Since the public sector had nothing it had not taken from the private, it could not support but only undermine it. And since bail-outs threw good money after bad, and propping up wages kept them from falling to the market, equilibrium, full employment levels at which the unemployed could have been reemployed, our macro-masters could only prolong and deepen the agony, spending and meddling our way, not to prosperity, but into the poor house and World War II.

And that was the real legacy of the Compassionate Conservatism of Hoover, New Deal of Roosevelt, and, as well, perhaps, of the Bail-out, Back Door Socialism of the shake-down artists who got us into the current mess, and will get us out of it, for a small price.

If Roosevelt is to be credited with ending the depression, he must also be blamed for starting the war, for it was not until it absorbed the unemployed into the armed forces and war production that unemployment and the depression finally came to an end.

There was a better way. Another predecessor of Roosevelt’s, Harding, elected in 1920, “inherited…one of the sharpest recessions in American history. By July 1921 it was all over and the economy was booming again. Harding had done nothing except cut government expenditure.” Modern Times by Paul Johnson, P 216

With a policy of saving rather spending our way to prosperity, he got us out of a downturn without a depression and a world war. And for that he is the most belittled president of the last century while Roosevelt is the most admired.

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