Monday, November 03, 2008

Senator Ascendant

Tomorrow, we will elect the third person to move directly from the United States Senate to the Presidency. Both McCain and Obama are sitting US Senators (as is Biden. Palin is a governor.). The last time a sitting US Senator or Congressman was elected president was John F. Kennedy in 1960. At the time he was second term Senator from Massachusetts in his 8th year of office.

As of today Barack Obama is in the third year of his first term as Senator from Illinois, and John McCain is in the fourth year of his fourth term as Senator from Arizona. Joe Biden is in the sixth year of his sixth term as Senator from Delaware and is currently running simultaneously for a seventh term while running with Obama as VP. Sarah Palin is in the third year of her first term as governor of Alaska.

All the other presidents between JFK and today were governors or VP's immediately prior to election (Johnson: Kennedy's VP; Nixon: Eisenhower's VP; Ford: Nixon's VP; Carter: GA Governor; Reagan: CA Governor; Bush I: Reagan's VP; Clinton: AK Governor; Bush II: TX Governor).

Before Kennedy, you have to go back to Warren G. Harding to get the next most recent member of Congress who became president. (Eisenhower was General in the US Army. Truman was FDR's VP. FDR was Governor of New York. Hoover was Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce. Coolidge was Harding's VP.) He was in the sixth year of his first term as Senator from Ohio when elected president in 1921. According to Wikipedia, he was the first sitting US Senator elected president.

James Garfield was a sitting US Representative from Ohio, having served from 1863 - 1881 before being elected to the presidency in 1880. Andrew Johnson was Lincoln's VP for one month before the assassination; prior to that he was Military Governor, US Senator from and elected Governor of Tennessee. Lincoln served one term as US Representative from Illinois before spending many years as a lawyer.

And so it goes, back into the murky history of the US presidency.

What does this mean? Well, in the 220-odd years of the US presidency, only 2 sitting US Senators have been elected president. A few more sitting US representatives have been elected. The vastly greater majority have been sitting governors or most recent Vice-Presidency (with a few military generals thrown in here and there).

Tomorrow there will be a third sitting US Senator elected to be President of the US.

Not that we have any choice about it now, but I think it's telling that by and large the people of the United States trust their governors and VP's - those who have had national administrative experience, rather than legislative experience - to lead our country. Or experience leading a military unit. Or experience in a cabinet position, even.

We'll see how Obama or McCain do, translate their legislative experiences into administrative. When dealing with military decisions, the last post-Senatoral president, JFK, had the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harding's presidency was rocked with scandal in the cabinet with several members and assistants sent to jail for taking bribes.

Interestingly, both Kennedy and Harding died within a couple of years of taking office, Kennedy from assassination and Harding from a heart attack. So no sitting US Senator elected president has ever served out his full first term.

(By the way: Grover Cleveland, a man the US citizens voted in to office as president twice, in non-consecutive terms, was at the time of his election in his third year as first term governor of New York. Prior to that he was Mayor of Buffalo for one year. Just thought that was interesting, in light of all the flak thrown at Palin - not that it's warranted or unwarranted, just that it's not unprecedented.)

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