Presidential Aptitude Test (PAT)

This morning the idea came to me that we should have a SAT type test for candidates running for political office, and especially for Presidential candidates.  I checked Google and this idea has come up many times before in magazines, newspapers and by other bloggers.  One of the earliest examples of this concept was a letter to the New York Times in 1992.  It’s a good idea – especially after watching the Republicans go through debate after debate this year.

Think about the severe certification process we have for accountants, lawyers, doctors and teachers?  Why shouldn’t we have minimum standards for politicians?  Now most people will say the grueling gauntlet folks have to go through in the press is the aptitude test for politicians, but that only seems to weed out people that can’t handle campaigning pressure or flush out sexual bad behavior.  It’s more of a beauty or popularity contest – like picking the King and Queen for homecoming.

Most people who have the nerve to throw their hat into the ring to become president usually have experience in Congress, were state governors, or were successful businessmen, and on a rare occasions were generals.  Now running a state is probably the closest job to the job skills required to run the country.  Personally, I don’t think the skills acquired in the Senate or House is really equal to those it take to run the country.  And although the President is the Commander in Chief, I don’t think running the Army provides the same skills either.  And I can see why some people might think a successful CEO should be good for the job of President, but that only works if you think of the country as a business, which it’s not.

I want our President to be very smart, but there’s a lot of political analysis that suggests that Americans don’t like intellectual presidents.  However, since our country seems to be going down the tubes, I think we need to think hard about the job qualifications and quit thinking of picking a president by who we want to drink beer with.

What’s really needed is a renaissance man or woman.  Someone with a MBA and CPA, and J.D.  But we’d also want someone with a Ph.D. in American History and another in World Affairs.  It would also help if this person had a medical degree and was a scientist.  Once you start thinking about all the areas the president needs to know about, it’s no wonder the job doesn’t belong to a committee of experts.  And I think most voters feel the President do get their smarts from their advisers – but wouldn’t you also think the President needs to be smart enough to know what their advisers are talking about?

If the Education Testing Service (ETS) offered a PAT test for Presidential candidates I would expect anyone I was willing to vote for to have gotten high scores in most of the vital areas.  He or she wouldn’t have to be a genius, but I want people that scores in the top 10 percent of all areas.  Is it demanding too much to think that the man or woman that leads us has to be a straight A student?

So what areas of knowledge should a potential President be tested on?  These are subjects not related to his/her personal qualities like vision, leadership, charisma, perseverance, ability to communicate, focus, ability to listen to people, etc.

  • Law
  • Economics
  • History
  • Government
  • Science
  • Business
  • City, State, Federal and World Trade
  • Foreign Affairs
  • Philosophy, Rhetoric, Logic, Ethics and Religions

Most Republicans have a myopic view of economics – cut taxes.  They also seem anti-science and anti-education.  And after the grilling reporters have been giving them for months I would think they all would do poorly on the PAT test.  However, even though Obama is considered well educated, would he excel in all these areas?  My gut hunch would be he would have the highest PAT scores except for Gingrich, who is bookish for a Republican, but he might not get all As.  I think Obama is far more scholarly than Gingrich, but I just don’t know to what depth.  Wouldn’t you love to see their test scores to know for sure?

I’ve often wondered if the true job requirements and public scrutiny keeps 99.999% of all qualified applicants away from applying for the job of U. S. President.  I also wonder how much real power the job of U. S. President can have at improving our lives and the country.  Is there a man or woman in our country that could have done a better job than Obama?  Would we be seeing strong economic growth and low unemployment if John McCain had won the election in 2008?

President Bush and now President Obama have pushed for a system to quantify the performance of teachers – people who must meet state certification laws.  Shouldn’t we expect that same kind of quantitative measures and certification for politicians?

If we tested our politicians and then compared their scores to performance over time we’d know if test scores mattered.

At the very minimum, and a just for fun kind of thing, I wished all the candidates running for President would take some standardized tests on American history and government.  I’d really like to know how they all do.

JWH – 12/3/11

One thought on “Presidential Aptitude Test (PAT)”

  1. We might be better off economically today – at least in the short term – if John McCain had won the presidency. That’s because, with a Republican in the White House, both Republicans and Democrats would have come together to try to help our country.

    As it is, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans are deliberately sabotaging the recovery. That helps them politically, as does any perceived failure of government (even when they caused the failure), since they’re perceived as the “anti-government” party.

    Democrats would not do this – or maybe I should say they could not. They’re too diverse for that, and they would never have the discipline to stick together like Republicans more naturally tend to do. Just look at their behavior during the Bush administration.

    Of course, McCain would be taking America further down the wrong path. We’ve already seen how he won’t stand up to the far-right loons in his party. So we might be better off in the short-term, but not the long-term. And who knows? Maybe not in the short-term, either. George W. Bush was certainly a disaster for our country, and we didn’t have to wait long for that to become apparent.

    And that brings me back to your proposed test. If we’d wanted a smart president, rather than a president we’d like to have a beer with, we wouldn’t have elected Bush in the first place, and we wouldn’t be in such a mess. We’d still have problems – human beings won’t ever create a utopia – but we’d be in far better shape than we are now.

    That said, smart presidents aren’t always effective, either. It takes more than just intelligence and more than just knowledge. Barack Obama is a smart man and a knowledgeable one, but he’s been too hesitant to actually lead our country. And after a great campaign, he seems to have lost his political sense as president, too. We need a politician in the White House, we really do.

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