Interviewing for America’s CEO

The campaign to elect a president of the United States in 2008 will be the most socially significant in American history. Never before have the American people been so challenged regarding their ability to look past the identities of the candidates and to hire a chief executive officer of their corporation based on qualifications that matter.

As this is written, each of the two major political parties has three candidates leading the pack. On the Democrat side are Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator John Edwards and Senator Barack Obama. The Republican “Big Three” are the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.

Four of these six candidates have racial, gender, ethnic or religious backgrounds that would make their election a first in American history: the first black or multiracial president; the first woman; the first Italian; or the first Mormon. Although I am not a fan of paying much attention to this “first” stuff, it is clear that when it comes to electing an American president, Obama’s “race,” Clinton’s gender, Giuliani’s ethnic background and Romney’s religion will be noteworthy to the media and to a significant share of the American public.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Republican. Like Obama, I also have multiracial ancestry. But, when it comes to casting my vote for president, I owe no allegiance to my party or to my ancestry. Thus, I will apply the same tests to each of the candidates as I try to form an opinion about their suitability to serve as president of my country.

I take quite seriously the fact that when I vote for president, I am voting for someone who will make decisions – such as appointments to the Supreme Court – that will have lasting effects upon me as well as my children and my grandchildren. The latter deserve every ounce of thoughtful consideration that I can muster, because they have no vote in a decision that will directly affect them for years to come. Therefore, I owe it to them and to future generations to vote for the candidate that I consider best for the nation, be that person a Democrat or Republican.

The fact that Clinton is female or that Giuliani is Italian or that Romney is Mormon is of no consequence to me. On the other hand, it would not be candid of me not to admit to a certain emotional interest in the candidacy of Obama. Given the fact that “interracial” relationships were socially forbidden when Obama was born – a fact with which I am personally familiar – it would be heart-warming, for me, to see the product of such a relationship become president of the United States, just four and a half decades after his birth.

Notwithstanding that certain “emotional interest,” Obama will have to compete equally with the other candidates in demonstrating the suitability of his credentials to receive my vote for president. In that regard, this election – more than any other – has caused me to wrestle with the question of what factors are most important in a president.

The most important fact for us all to remember is that the president of the United States is chief executive officer of the planet’s largest corporation. To run such a corporation, it is critical that the occupant of that office has some demonstrated administrative experience – knowing what to look for when making appointments; being able to direct and lead a large staff of individuals, many of whom have egos of considerable magnitude; and having the ability to understand a variety of complex social, economic and political issues. Running a congressional committee with a staff of 100 or having been editor of the Harvard Law Review are not the level of experience that instantly come to mind as suitable in a job interview for the president of the United States. I need to see more substance than those experiences.

The world is very unsettled, with a lot of bad guys who live and breathe with nothing else in mind but the goal of wiping America off the face of the earth. Accordingly, I believe we need a leader who can be tough. Diplomacy has its place, but if there is a need to kick butt, I want someone in the Oval Office who is not afraid to say the equivalent of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Finally, the American people are extremely divided. From one corner of our country to the other, we are debating a host of issues: When does life begin? Who should have control over life? What do we do about those with different sexual orientation? Has the time come to pull the plug on “Affirmative Action?” These are but a few of the issues over which we are so fractured. More than ever, we need strong leadership and someone with the capacity to help us walk through these issues. Personally, I am less concerned about whether the candidates for the presidency agree with my specific positions as I am about whether they truly understand the issues, have the courage to take a position themselves and to defend their positions, and treat the electorate with respect and the presumption that we have the capacity to make tough decisions once the facts are laid before us.

These are the traits that I will be applying to each of the candidates. The decision is not going to be easy.