I have something to confess right out of the gate. I’m a Rubio Republican. I donated 10 dollars to his presidential campaign, I attended his rally in Utah, liked his posts, retweeted his tweets, cheered him on during debates. I am such a fan of his that I’m among a small segment of the GOP that’s trying to make the phrase Rubio Republican happen. (I’m not sure who coined it, but I joined the Facebook page).
There. I said it. With my biases out in the open, I’d like to opine about something that perplexed me about his failed candidacy: the fact that he was known as a political insider. Or should I say, the thing that perplexed me was that people disparaged him for being a political insider.
I assume that for most people, a political insider connotes someone who has lived off the taxpayer, someone who has forsaken their own to take up residence in Washington D.C., and do business in a smoke-filled basement. While this may be true of some politicians, people who hold their noses at elected officials running for office, i.e. Senators, Congressmen or Governors running for president, forget that there is a reason why certain people become insiders–because their constituents like them and continue to vote for them. Say what you will about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who has served in the Senate for 39 years, but the fact that he’s still there is because Utahns like him and approve of the job he’s doing. A political insider couldn’t make a living off the taxpayer unless the taxpayer first elected him.
If a political insider is someone who has been in Washington for years, why then are junior senators and congressman so labeled? Someone who has been elected for merely 6 or 2 years has not been living in Washington long enough to become a Washingtonian. Perhaps constituents view them as being too beholden to special interests, or as not returning to the district enough, which might be true for some. But others, at the risk of revealing idealism, are likely there to try to make a difference for the people of their states and/or the country. We shouldn’t fault those who have made a career out of public service, when most people in the country are hard pressed to even vote.
Moreover, a political insider, whether you define that as a 7 term Senator or anyone who has an affiliation with Washington at all, has institutional knowledge that would be valuable to the presidency. Yes, a political outsider would bring a fresh perspective, but do they know the temperament of the legislative body? Do they know how a bill becomes a law? Do they know the heads of committees, the protocol of government? Each of these things are valuable, and in my opinion, underrated, when the public searches for a candidate for president.
Has he or she spent years in Washington? Great! That means they understand which processes work and which need to be re-evaluated. Are they a career politician? Fantastic! They’ve been busy at least trying to create proposals that reflect their constituents. And if they haven’t been? They’ve been voted out by a public attentive enough to be wary of corruption.
Perhaps my opinion isn’t good enough to warrant you to elect an insider. But there were those during our country’s founding who wanted insiders, and presidents throughout our history who demonstrated what good insiders can do.
There is a distinct reason why the framers of the constitution did not insist on term limits and it’s because of institutional knowledge. Our system was designed to allow insiders, and prevent both Congress and the Senate being filled with legislators who were fresh off of their carriages to Washington. Moreover, James Madison argues in Federalist 53 that “ No man can be a competent legislator who does not add to an upright intention and a sound judgment a certain degree of knowledge of the subjects on which he is to legislate. A part of this knowledge may be acquired by means of information which lie within the compass of men in private as well as public stations. Another part can only be attained, or at least thoroughly attained, by actual experience in the station which requires the use of it” While there is merit to extensive knowledge about the presidency or the legislature, no amount of reading can prepare one for the experience of actually participating in either or both. An outsider can have a great transition team, but once we’ve voted them into office, their transition team cannot replace the institutional knowledge that an insider would have.
One need only look to the United States’ past to find great presidents who were insiders before being elected. David Rothkapf, writer and CEO of Foreign Policy Group writes that our most successful foreign policy presidents have been insiders, not only to the government, but more specifically, the White House. He lists George H. W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt as top presidents in the foreign policy arena and explains “Four of them were vice presidents. One was supreme allied commander. And one was a top official in the Department of the Navy in the days when it was absolutely central to U.S. defense. There is no substitute for high-level experience in or with the White House, and it is the only reliable preparation for a commander-in-chief and architect of U.S. foreign policy.”
If you disagree with Rothakapf, and H.W., Ike, FDR and the Bull Moose simply aren’t your cup of tea, and are the very reason you hate politicians, you might want to reconsider. Because further research reveals that most presidents, if they ran today, would be labeled as insiders. Lincoln? A Congressman from Illinois. Jefferson? Vice president and Secretary of State. Reagan? Governor of California, not an insider to Washington maybe, but certainly a politician before he ran for president. Jackson? The rebel beholden to no one? He stormed the White House from his place as a Senator from Tennessee.
Overall, prior experience in politics is the norm for our presidents. Of the presidents we’ve elected, 14 were Vice Presidents, 8 were cabinet members, 16 were Senators, 19 were Congressman, and 22 were governors, and many served in multiple capacities prior to becoming president. The only three presidents who did not hold public office before being elected were Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Would Americans then have rejected the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson simply because they were insiders? Would we today?
Perhaps Americans’ hatred of insiders has less to do with actual candidates than the time in which we live. As political pundits keep reminding us, this year’s election is all about anger. But in an election year so characterized by anger, we should not forget prudence. Insiders do not deserve to be re-elected simply because they are insiders.They don’t deserve to be unseated on that basis either.
Americans are tired of business as usual. But barring a complete shake-up of elected officials in Washington, those we elect will have to understand how to get things done in a business as usual atmosphere. Decisions are rarely made unilaterally, processes are slow and the stakes are high. Almost every president we’ve elected had this understanding prior to holding the office.
Some Americans are craving the expertise of an outsider. The thing that characterizes the outsider, however, is lack of expertise and experience with government. America has its challenges ahead of her. Who better to solve them than someone who has made a life of doing so.