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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    What does it take to be president?

    In announcing her decision to run for president in 2024, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, suggested that candidates over the age of 75 should have to undergo a mental competency test. It was an obvious dig at both President Joe Biden, who is 80 years old, and fellow Republican Donald Trump, who is 76. Haley, 51, would like voters to see her as representing generational change.

    Whether anyone ever gets tested or not is beside the point. She got in her shot by causing Americans to think about the potential risks of octogenarian officeholders facing loss of brain function. Medical experts quickly observed that this was blatant ageism. One does not need to be 75 years old to encounter competency issues, and some studies have suggested such tests aren’t especially reliable.

    Yet Haley’s political jab raises real questions: What qualities make for a good United States president, and how can voters know if someone possesses them or not?

    The recent news that former President Jimmy Carter has entered home hospice care provides a moment of reassessment. The 98-year-old is one of the most highly regarded ex-presidents in modern times because of his post-presidency decades of tireless charitable work, his humanitarian missions abroad on behalf of his country, his humility, his selflessness, his character and his faith. But did these qualities make him an ideal president? The record suggests his four-year term — more often remembered for the Iranian hostage crisis and gasoline shortages than for the historic Camp David Accords — did not win him the kind of accolades that he’s earned since his White House departure.

    Should a president be brilliant? More a person-of-the-people? Empathetic? Self-centered? Set in beliefs or flexible? An argument can be made for any of the above or some combination. A brave president is willing to visit Ukraine despite the obvious physical peril that presents. A brilliant one might have discovered a better path to peace. Or not. Maybe an egotist wins the day. Just look at the CEOs of the world’s most successful companies. Lacking in self-confidence they are generally not.

    Can we even trust they are who they present themselves to be? Take the cautionary tale of George Santos, the make-believe man chosen by voters to be their U.S. Representative in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. His baldfaced lies about himself and his background before, during and after last fall’s political campaign are only now, post election, coming to light. The rise of social media and agenda-driven outlets, such as Fox News and Breitbart News, along with the decline of traditional news outlets, like community newspapers, have made it all the more difficult. What good is a cognitive assessment if the candidate misrepresents reality?

    Americans must begin to think of office seekers the way large corporations look at candidates for management posts or the way colleges consider student admissions. Standardized testing by reliable third parties sources could have a role, but it should not necessarily be the biggest one. Americans deserve much, much more — work history, high school transcripts, background checks and tax returns. If this requires an act of Congress then so be it. Is there any decision Americans make that is more important?

    We can debate what qualities we’re looking for in a commander-in-chief. Personnel managers have always done the same with hirings. But no one can make an informed decision without knowing the facts. What’s missing right now, not how quickly a candidate can recall and not how fast your can multiply $1,238 by six (an actual sample question on a cognitive test, by the way), but something much more basic: What exactly makes you qualified for the job? Please submit documentation.


    Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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