Tuesday, 6 July 2004

Executive selection and executive competence

One thing I’ve been kicking around in my head lately while I’ve avoided working on my R&R is that there’s a qualitative difference between the chief executives chosen in presidential systems versus those from parliamentary regimes. In general, it seems (offhand) that parliamentary systems produce better leaders, but I’m not sure why.

Consider the United States. I can think of only one truly great president during the modern two-party era, and it’s Abraham Lincoln. And he’s only great because he won the Civil War. The rest seem to be a succession of mediocrities, a few of whom are “great” solely in relation to their presidential peers. FDR was better than Hoover, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Winston Churchill (though, I suppose, he was better than Neville Chamberlain). Reagan beat the crap out of everyone since Kennedy, but—let’s face it—he was a mediocrity compared to Margaret Thatcher. Bill Clinton or Tony Blair? No contest, Blair by a mile. Hell, John Major was better than 41 and 43 combined.

Lest we consider this a solely American phenomenon, let’s cross the pond and consider the succession of political hacks and nobodies that have led France as president since World War II. De Gaulle is only memorable because he was a jackass of the highest order. Mitterand? Chirac? Great leaders only in their own minds. Give me Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, or even Gerhard Schröder any day.

I don’t have a good reason why this should be the case. Maybe it the experience of herding cats as a legislative leader makes prime ministers and chancellors better national leaders than the CEO-like experience of being a governor (the most common path to power our presidential system). Then again, Chirac was a party leader in parliament for years, and the experience seems to have improved him little. So, perhaps it’s just “grass is greener” syndrome—something to ponder the next few months while these two mediocrities duke it out.

1 comment:

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Ahem. Teddy Roosevelt, if you please, kind sir.

Also, Harry Truman.

And Lincoln himself was deeply flawed, as I’m sure you know.

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