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A President Shouldn’t Just Rely On Experts

One of the common refrains I am hearing from supporters of Herman Cain when one makes them aware of  their candidate’s multiple displays of either ignorance of or total disinterest in the details of foreign policy is that he’ll have “experts” to help in in that area. For example, see this comment from one leading conservative blogger to Cain’s bizarre statement on Monday about Chinese nuclear weapons:

Should he know that China is a nuclear power? Absolutely. Is it that big of a deal in the long run? I’d say probably not. Like any good president, he will have good people around him (hopefully John Bolton).

Cain himself has said much the same thing when asked what kind of a foreign policy President he’ ll be:

When it comes to national security issues, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain says he’d rely heavily on advice from advisers and military commanders.

Asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” how we would respond to the foiled Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO said, “President Cain would first make sure that he’s making the right decision based upon all of the information. … If it’s an act of war, and the evidence suggests that, then I’m going to consult with my advisers and say, ‘What are our options?'”

Cain said his foreign policy thinking was guided by the writings of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, and  former Pentagon official K.T. McFarland. But the presidential candidate said he’s not familiar with the neoconservative school of foreign policy that has favored military intervention abroad.

Now, it’s generally true that every President relies on a wide variety of experts and advisers in both domestic and foreign policy to help him make decisions and set policy. Washington had Jefferson and Hamilton. Andrew Jackson had his Kitchen Cabinet. Lincoln had the Team of Rivals. FDR had his Brain Trust. Kennedy had what David Halberstam would name “The Best And The Brightest.” Reagan had a circle of informal advisers that supplemented his staff at times, so did Bill Clinton. And, of  course, every President has the Cabinet, the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others groups of advisers. Nobody expects a President to know everything about the hundreds if not thousands of topics that he’s required to make decisions on over the course of his Presidency, and it’s good for a President to get as much information as possible, and as many opinions about courses of action as he can. In the end, though, only one person is elected to make those decisions, and it strikes me that we really don’t want a President who is so heavily reliant on experts that he really isn’t making the decisions himself.

Conor Freidersdorf points out quite nicely how a President like Cain, reliant as he would be on the advice of “experts,” would quickly become the captive of the very experts he’s referring to:

A wonk briefing a man who knows as little as Cain will inevitably influence policy by framing questions in particular ways, exercising discretion over which options he presents, failing to be an honest broker among ideas. A populist movement more mature than the Tea Party would understand that the ideal vehicle to shake up the system and challenge entrenched behaviors is someone knowledgeable enough to call out experts when their version of reality is incomplete.

Were Cain elected, he’d go to Washington, D.C., where, having no specific ideas of his own, he’d adopt the approach of the various permanent think tanks and policy shops that served the Bush Administration. Tomorrow’s equivalent of the health-care debate would arise, the Heritage Foundation would come up with tomorrow’s equivalent of the individual mandate, and the conservatives who elected Cain would be surprised and upset by the fact that he turned out to be just as bad as all the other politicians — never realizing that right from the beginning, he signaled that if elevated he wouldn’t be implementing his own ideas so much as the ones that “plenty of experts” supply. Alternatively, Cain could compensate for the probability that he’d be run over by the experts and hire folks who aren’t nearly so intimidating because they know little more than he does, and that doesn’t sound like it would turn out well for the country either.

No, it wouldn’t be. Either you have a President captive to the same group of people who led us down the road to disaster from 2001-2008, or you have a bunch of people who have no idea what they’re doing and are just making it up as they go along. Based on the Cain campaign’s most prominent example of reliance on “experts” so far, the 9-9-9 plan, it seems that he’s just as likely to pick the second group of experts as the first. Neither one is ideal, really. A more important point, though, is that a President who relies on “experts” in the manner that Cain says he will is missing one crucial element of leadership. It’s fine to get advice from people with more experience or expertise in a given field than you have, but sometimes when you’re the one making the decisions you have to have the ability to say “No, you’re wrong. We’ll do it this way.” That involves having the knowledge and judgment to know when the experts are wrong.  Does Herman Cain possess that skill? We’ve got no public record on which to make that determination and it strikes me as foolhardy to take the risk.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    John Bolton advising Herman Cain? Boy that’s enough to keep you awake at night.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  2. Moosebreath says:

    “One of the common refrains I am hearing from supporters of Herman Cain when one makes them aware of their candidate’s multiple displays of either ignorance of or total disinterest in the details of foreign policy is that he’ll have “experts” to help in in that area.”

    Because that worked so well from 2001-2009?

    “Like any good president, he will have good people around him (hopefully John Bolton).”

    Now I am really scared. Putting John Bolton in charge of our foreign policy will do nothing other than starting more wars with countries who are no threat to us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  3. matt b says:

    Again, we see the lines of partisanship — i.e. we love/defend it in our guy, we hate it on the other side.

    A strong argument can be made that Obama’s techno/bureaucratic tendencies make him the ultimate example of an “expert” driven presidency.

    The best example of it was his much attacked statement — during the BP Oil Spill – that he relied on experts to tell him whose ass to kick. In the same way the “Czar” positions have always been tied to experts as well.

    Of course one side tends to like it’s own experts and demonize the experts chosen by the other side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. mike says:

    One man’s “experts” are another man’s cronies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Barb Hartwell says:

    I know a president can`t know everything but Cain is clearly not qualified to be president. I do not believe business experience is enough. We the people should have a standard for who is qualified to lead this nation, it should not be anyone who has enough money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. mike says:

    @Barb Hartwell: I think a gladiator arena should be built. Two men, or women, enter; one man leaves. Maybe a fishing competition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Funny post. We’re worried about Cain’s ignorance and the necessity for him to rely on experts and simultaneously we’re not worried about the likes of Van Jones, Steve Rattner, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Holder, et al., advising the community organizer, Obama. Honestly the cognitive dissonance inherent in leftism boggles the mind.

    In any event, if by some cosmic infarction Cain were to become president he would have no choice but to place enormous reliance on various experts. Cain’s not remotely qualified to be president. There can be no doubt about this. But if the stupefied right nominates him and if Zombieland elects him then he’ll need pretty much everything spoon fed to him in order to perform the duties of the office. That will be the unfortunate reality. On that topic at least Cain is aware enough of his (vast) limitations to be honest about needing heavily to rely on others. Damnation by faint praise, of course, but that’s the best we can do under the circumstances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  8. Franklin says:

    @Ron Beasley: Heh, I might actually consider building a bomb shelter in that case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Wayne says:

    A leader who so egoistical that he thinks he knows everything and\or thinks he knows better than anyone else is the danger. Gathering nothing but a posse of yes man don’t work well either.

    A sign of a good leader is those who are able to gather successful and competent experts. Often they gather ones in the same field with opposing views. They use them as a source of information. When there is disagreement, the leader listens to all sides of the argument then makes a decision. There is nothing magical about it and all good Presidents have done it. A President who thinks he knows so much will likely be a disaster.

    Cain has shown he can be a good leader. He has turn unsuccessful companies into highly successful ones. Someone might get lucky doing that with one company or just happen to take charge of one when that industry has a boom but Cain did it over and over.

    There are those who know how to go down the books checklist to try to solve the problem and those like Cain who can examine what’s going on and figure a way to solve the problem even if the solution is not in the “book”.

    I will take a proven problem solver over a career politician especially those who are proven problem creators.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    and simultaneously we’re not worried about the likes of Van Jones, Steve Rattner, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Holder, et al.,

    I always find it amusing that people primarily invested in right-wing pundit politics insist on naming some half-year holders of purely advisory roles before such unimportant actors as the acting Attorney General of the United States. Could it be that these lists are primarily sorted by the amount of red meat it will invoke in republicans? Nah, surely not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. sam says:

    @Wayne:

    A sign of a good leader is those who are able to gather successful and competent experts

    Well, hell, where can I sign up?

    “In answer to your question, ” Mr. President, “yes, the Chinese have nuclear weapons. And airplanes and boats and stuff.”

    Where’s my check?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. ponce says:

    Wonder which cabinet position “Joe” the “Plumber” would get in a Cain administration?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Wayne says:

    @Sam
    Sorry Sam you are not qualified.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. sam says:

    @Wayne:

    @Sam
    Sorry Sam you are not qualified.

    Too many big words in my communication to President Cain?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. Moosebreath says:

    sam,

    “Too many big words in my communication to President Cain? ”

    No, you believe in giving advice based upon the actual facts present in the real world. That would never fly in any Administration led by someone endorsed by the Tea Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. steve says:

    ” we’re not worried about the likes of Van Jones, Steve Rattner, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Holder, et al., advising the community organizer, Obama. ”

    Every president needs experts, but you expect that they will have some general interests so that they can put the issues in historical context. It is interesting that you do not cite any foreign policy names. Should I assume ignorance on your part?

    Perhaps most concerning in this whole issue is the total lack of interest in the area. Let us assume that Cain has a long term interest in the welfare of the US. Let us also assume that he reads the usual right wing publications, such as the Wall Street Journal (he was, supposedly, a businessperson). How can you read the WSJ, or National Review or any other major publication, without picking up general knowledge on foreign policy? Heck, the guy was a talk radio host for a while. How did he avoid soaking up some of that information? To me, it suggests a complete lack of interest or curiosity. Maybe even intellectual laziness, only interested in confirming what he thinks he already knows.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. Hey Norm says:

    Tsar seems to be worried about advisors to President Obama.
    Let’s review: Obama is the President that actually got OBL, instead of just talking about it…got Anwar al-Awlaki…eliminated Gadhafi and liberated Libya without losing a single American life…and is getting our troops out of Iraq on time – minus the Mission Accomplished banner.
    Criminey…if a Republican had done all that they would be chiseling his or her face on Mt. Rushmore already.
    Tsar should pay closer attention to results and less attention to names that Hannity and Limbaugh throw out like red-meat to excite the base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  18. anjin-san says:

    He has turn unsuccessful companies into highly successful ones. Someone might get lucky doing that with one company or just happen to take charge of one when that industry has a boom but Cain did it over and over.

    Aside from Godfathers, what companies has Cain run? You seem to be a bit confused on the facts. “Over and over”? Details please.

    I am not knocking Cain on his business experience, he seems to have had a fine career. On the other hand, Godfathers was about a 250 million a year company when he left. That hardly makes him a major player.

    Also, it is worth noting that a large component of the Godfather turnaround was eliminating jobs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. anjin-san says:

    To me, it suggests a complete lack of interest or curiosity. Maybe even intellectual laziness, only interested in confirming what he thinks he already knows.

    In other words, he is a typical modern conservative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  20. anjin-san says:

    A sign of a good leader is those who are able to gather successful and competent experts.

    Ah, so you are saying Obama is a good leader. Interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Rob in CT says:

    hopefully John Bolton

    What the actual eff? Mindboggling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. Hey Norm says:

    “…He has turn unsuccessful companies into highly successful ones…”

    Not fer nuthin’…but Godfathers pizza sucks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. ponce says:

    He has turn unsuccessful companies into highly successful ones…

    Has that been substantiated?

    I thought his track record running Godfather’s was rather meh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Ron Beasley says:

    @ponce: Yes it’s like Carly Fiorina touting her CEO experience when Lucent and HP are still trying to recover from her disastrous tenure as CEO. CNBC rated her as the 19th worst CEO in US history:

    A consummate self-promoter, Fiorina was busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered. She paid herself handsome bonuses and perks while laying off thousands of employees to cut costs. The merger Fiorina orchestrated with Compaq in 2002 was widely seen as a failure. She was ousted in 2005.

    THE STAT: HP stock lost half its value during Fiorina’s tenure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    @Ron Beasley

    HP may never fully recover. My buddies that are HP alumni start cursing when her name comes up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Ron, details, details….. You obviously don’t know what you are talking about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Ron Beasley says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I assume you forgot the snark tags. I think we need some real HTML snark tags.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0