Skip to comments.Dear Dr. Carson: Our Founding Fathers Were Not Novices
Posted on 11/09/2015 2:27:00 PM PST by jfd1776
Late in the evening on November 4, 2015, Dr. Ben Carson sat down to his computer, as he reportedly does regularly, to answer questions that had been sent to him on Facebook during the day.
His November 4 post had the desired effect. With 300,000 likes and 180,000 shares (at this writing), read aloud by major talk show hosts from Rush Limbaugh in Florida to Joe Walsh in Chicago, this post is the dictionary definition of âgoing viral.â
So as a politician, he deserves congratulations; the post was effective. But as an honest statesman, it fell short.
The Question of Experience
Dr. Carsonâs November 4 post concerned an issue that he, his supporters, and his detractors have all thought and worried about: whether or not his lack of government experience was an electoral drawbackâ¦ the specific question was âWhat they should tell their friends, when people say âI like Carson but he has no political experience.â?â
In his original post, he argued that he believes that his experience â as a caring person, an innovative surgeon, a regular guy â was more what America needs in its president than someone with political experience. He derisively totaled the cumulative years of political experience of the current members of our dysfunctional Congress, and then brought it home with the piece de resistance: the fact that, in his words, âEvery Signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.â
He knew his audience well. Dr. Carson knew that his potential voters are rightly angry at both our current government and at our recent presidential nominees. He knew that this segment of voters is open to considering a non-politician, and just needs ammunition against the argument that âexperience mattersâ when trying to convince others who are not yet on board.
And he knew that â no matter what they think of the politicians of the past century or so â the vast majority of Americans still rightly love the Founding Fathers.
So he tied himself to them, with one simple statement: âEvery Signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.â It was the standout statement of the post, the keystone of his argument.
My gosh, what a compelling argument. If our budding nation could be founded by a group of regular folks â non-politicians like Dr. Carson â and be successful in gaining independence from Great Britain, and in building a thriving economy of free peopleâ¦ well, then, anything we can do to copy their lead is a worthy precedent.
It was a brilliant â and effective â position to take, as a politician.
If only it were true.
In fact, it was one of the most outrageous misstatements of the 2016 cycle. When called on it â on facebook and elsewhere, sometime late the following afternoon â he quietly edited the post and changed the words to âEvery signer of the Declaration of Independence had no federal elected office experienceâ (Italics mine).
As if that correction were meaningful at all. There was no federal government at the time of the Declaration of Independence, remember. The Signers, as elected members of the Continental Congress, had all the federal elected office experience that existed.
But that wasnât the main point anyway. Dr. Carson, trying to tie himself to the Founding Fathers, claimed that our nation was founded by citizens who lacked political experience â citizens who had previously been uninvolved in government, then suddenly entered the political sphere at the time of crisis to save the day. Just like he says heâs doing.
The claim is so wrong it would be laughable if it werenât such an important issue, both to his point - it is, in fact, the linchpin to his argument â and to the nation.
Because the Founding Fathers were not just âexperienced politiciansâ â they were, to a man, extremely, impressively experienced in politics.
The Republican Revolution
There have been many revolts in human history, and most have ended badly. The key to the success of our War of Independence was the fact that Englandâs American colonies had been largely self-governing ever since the settlersâ arrival, so the American revolution just severed some governmental ties, not all. Each of our colonies had an established state capital, a legislature elected in regular balloting, all based at least in part on the British Parliamentary system.
Our revolutionaries were therefore incredibly experienced, probably the most governmentally-experienced revolutionaries in human history.
The Signers of the Declaration of Independence were the delegates sent by the several colonial legislatures to represent them in Philadelphia as a Continental Congress.
Who did those politicians trust to represent them, in such a delicate matter as challenging the King of England for control?
Not a bunch of amateurs, Iâll tell you that!
The colonial legislatures chose from among their own, and sent, for the most part, their senior statesmen. Consider just a few typical examples:
John Hancock: Representing Massachusetts, John Hancock had been a Boston selectman (a member of the city council) in 1765 when the Stamp Act began the major troubles between America and the Crown. He served in the Massachusetts state legislature for much of a decade before being sent by his peers to represent his state in the Continental Congress.
George Washington: Representing Virginia, George Washington was first elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, and simultaneously served as a Fairfax County Judge for most of his duration in the legislature. He had been one of his stateâs primary political leaders for over twenty years when his colleagues chose him to represent them in Philadelphia.
Roger Sherman: Representing Connecticut, Roger Sherman (the only person to sign all four of Americaâs founding documents, by the way) was first elected to the Connecticut General Assembly way back in 1755. He held a variety of offices in the twenty years between that political beginning and his time in the Continental Congress, including such elected positions as state legislator, judge, justice of the peace, and member of the governorâs council, often concurrently.
Benjamin Franklin: Representing Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklinâs first public office was as a Philadelphia city councilman in 1748, then a justice of the peace in 1749, then he spent much of the 1750s serving in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He served as postmaster several times in his long career, and served as Speaker of the Pennsylvania assembly in 1764, after his return from spending five years as Pennsylvaniaâs delegate to England.
Dr. Josiah Bartlett: Representing New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett was first elected to his stateâs legislature in 1765, the year of the Stamp Act Congress, and served as a justice of the peace, and in his stateâs committee of correspondence before being sent to the Continental Congress.
We could tell similar stories about all the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. The statesmen whom our state legislatures sent to Philadelphia were experienced politicians, not novices. They were people who knew government inside and out, and could therefore be trusted to see through any argument that a tyrannical King or his puppets in Parliament might pitch to them.
Each colony sought to ensure a diversity of experience in both their delegations and in the Continental Congress as a whole. They sent attorneys, writers, farmers, merchantsâ¦ even a cobbler, an inventor, a doctor, a bankerâ¦ but only if they were politically experienced as well. They chose the senior political leaders of their colonies, people who had been not just city councilmen but colonial legislators, speakers of the house, diplomats, judges, militia leaders.
To stand up to Parliament, we needed a body that was as experienced as that body, or even more so. The legislatures selecting their representatives wanted people they could count on, people whose positions on matters of human rights and governmentâs role in society were well known, proven by years of recorded votes and legal rulings.
The Continental Congress was composed of the mentors, not the protÃ©gÃ©s.
There were no amateurs in the Continental Congress. These were seasoned professionals in the art of libertarian governance, people who believed in the responsibility of government to protect the liberties of their citizens, not only from assault by criminals and foreign invaders, but from tyrannical government as well.
Our Founding Fathers knew that such a responsibility was no job for an amateur.
A Harmless Mistake?
One wants to give Dr. Carson the benefit of the doubt. Heâs a talented and honorable surgeon, a true hero in the medical profession. And heâs not a politicianâ¦ so the temptation is to cut him some slack.
If itâs true that he was writing his post late in the evening, dashing it off the top of his head after a busy day of speeches and book signings, perhaps he could have made a mistake.
The fact that the mistake he made supports his own position on the issue of experience, while getting it right would have utterly demolished it, might make it harder to believe that it was a mistake, but itâs certainly possible.
The life story of Dr. Carson, and his entire persona since converting to the Republican Party in 2014 and seeking its nomination for the presidency since then, are built on a foundation of honesty and a complete absence of the calculating manner of what we think of as âthe professional politician.â That such a man could have intentionally spun such a blatant lie, counting on his audience to be so ill-educated as to fall for it, strains credulity.
That being saidâ¦ Dr. Carson is on a book tour, hawking a book about returning America to the principles of our Founding Fathers. The book just came out; the writing must be fresh in his mindâ¦ and surely â considering the subject matter â that writing must have involved some degree of research, right?
To believe that a writer, fresh on the heels of writing an entire book about our Founding principles, could have forgotten that research so soon also strains credulity. One simply cannot read anything about the members of the Continental Congress â anything at all â without their individual biographies leaving an imprint on oneâs memory.
Anyone who has read the primary sources â or even just seen a showing of the Broadway musical â1776,â for that matter! â must come away with a recognition that this nationâs Founders were certainly highly experienced statesmen. These United-States-to-be didnât put up novices to contend with the bewigged peers of Parliament, we sent up their equals to match them.
So we are forced to choose between three possible explanations. Either â¢The error was a sloppy late-night mistake, not about an unimportant tangent but about the key issue at the heart of his articleâs subject, or â¢It was a conscious lie to support his argument that experience should be unimportant to the tea party movement, counting on his audience being ignorant enough not to notice (yes, if itâs this one, we should definitely feel insulted), or â¢He truly believes that that the Founding Fathers were novices, which would require not only that he possesses a complete lack of the most basic knowledge of American history, but also, that he didnât really do any of the actual research for the new book heâs hawking.
Your humble columnist has no idea which it is. Your humble columnist doesnât pretend to be an expert on Dr. Carson , or to know his heart.
All we know â and can analyze â is this: Dr. Carson sought to win people over to his contention that relevant experience is unnecessary, as long as irrelevant experience is impressive.
And to do so, the way he wanted to, he had to get the history completely backward.
Does A President Need Political Experience?
We return to the question that prompted the Doctorâs post in the first place. Does a president need experience in politics?
A case can be made on either side.
On the one hand, experience leading a state, crafting compromises between house and senate leadership for example, and managing the many bureaucracies of a modern government, will enable us to know whether the candidate has good prospects for doing well at managing such roles from the White House.
Consider Ronald Reagan, the most successful president of our modern era, who had the impressive experience of being a two-term California governor; he had even faced off against the communists back when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. And twenty years of political commentary had honed his arguments so he knew exactly where he stood on every issue, on day one. Oh yes, a strong case can be made for experience.
But on the other hand, you donât really need practice signing orders just to be able to sign orders. Much of the presidency is about judgment and policy leadership; cabinet officials can handle much of the management once the president sets the policy and congress has passed the laws. So it is certainly conceivable that an inexperienced president could be successful if his principles are on the right track. If heâs ready for the job, on the inside.
The problem with this question, however, is not with the answer; itâs that weâre asking the wrong question.
The issue of whether the next president is good or bad, and the related issue of whether or not experience played a role in it, isnât what we are deciding today.
We are not picking the next president; we are picking a nominee. The Republican Party is choosing a champion, the strongest person we have to lead our ticket to victory in November.
Thatâs what a primary contest is: itâs not the selection of the next officeholder, itâs the selection of the candidate to place before a very different electorate in November.
Our question must be âDo we believe that this candidate â a man utterly lacking in political experience, even in general political involvement until just two years ago â might be able to lead our ticket to victory in November, winning the presidency for himself, retaining control of both houses of Congress (remember, keeping the Senate is going to be VERY hard this time), and continuing to build on our recent wave of victories at the state and local levels?â
Do we know enough about the veritable gaffe machine that Dr. Carson sometimes is, this man who seems utterly naÃ¯ve about some issues and outright wrong on many others? Do we know enough about his grasp of the issues to be confident that he can defeat the opposition partyâs strongest champions in televised debates? Do we know enough about his level of commitment to the process to be sure that he will make joint appearances with gubernatorial and senatorial and congressional and other candidates he may not know or like, because of an understanding that the system only works if the GOP functions as a team at election season?
Or perhaps, do we suspect that this man doesnât appreciate those aspects of the nomination, and will suspend the fall campaign for a book tour the way heâs suspended his nomination campaign for one? Do we perhaps suspect that heâll refuse to campaign for downballot races, and refuse to participate in joint commercials and joint brochures with them, because his membership in this party is too new to have either built up alliances or developed a respect for the process?
We donât knowâ¦ not for sure. And we cannot, because his inexperience makes so many critical issues a dice shoot for the party and its electorate.
And speaking of electoratesâ¦ that November electorate is a very different body than the primary electorate. In November, there are committed Republicans and committed Democrats, and then also a vast array of voters who âvote the person, not the partyâ. Such people are known for paying special attention to experience, voting for the governor over the ambassador, or the incumbent over the businessman, or the sitting vice president over the small state governor.
A candidate doesnât have to win every vote in the country on election day. But it must win a majority. And when the candidate is a Republican, that candidate has to win more than 50%-plus-one; because of Democratic Party vote fraud, the Republican must win 54% or 55%, even more in some states, as the votes are counted on election night.
The Republican nominee will lose the hard Democrats, and will lose some Republicans no matter who he is (the GOP has many wings, unlike the uniformly socialist Democrats of today, and some will simply not consider some potential nominees). So the election comes down to the middle, the broad group known as the independents.
And that vast middle makes their decisions on three things: their opinion of the candidateâs personality, their level of agreement with his positions, and their respect for his resume.
If we are willing to nominate a man with minimal ability to define positions, combined with a weak or nonexistent political resume, we must hope that the likeability factor is high indeed, because heâll have to win on his life story and his personality alone.
Can it happen? Sure. Anythingâs possible.
But the odds canât be good.
Copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade consultant and trainer, actor, and recovering politician (but, like any addiction, youâre never really cured). His columns are found regularly in Illinois Review.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo.
G Bush, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John McCain, Al Gore, GW Bush, John Kerry. Mitt Romney and Barack Hussein Obama
How have your “experienced” candidates worked out of you the last 30 some years? Is the country is SUCH great shape today that you want to give THIS clown posse another chance at the job?
Very good article. Carson’s lack of depth and understanding of the issues becomes more evident everyday. Why else would he be supporting TPP, amnesty, and statehood for Puerto Rico, a country that declared bankruptcy just months ago?
He seems to be trying to draw a comparison between himself and our founding fathers, a comparison in which he falls far short.
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade consultant and trainer, actor, and recovering politician
Well based on the Authors standards, he is not someone who has qualification necessary to be advising us about what makes for a qualified Presidential candidates.
On July 4, 1776, many key figures in our revolution were rather young.
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Aaron Burr, 20
John Marshall, 20
Nathan Hale, 21
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Gouveneur Morris, 24
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25
Edward Rutledge, 26
John Paul Jones, 28
John Jay, 30
Benjamin Rush, 30
Abigail Adams, 31
Nathanael Greene, 33
Thomas Jefferson, 33
None of the above met the minimum age requirement to be president today. Even if “novice” is not the exact right word, it’s pretty close.
Go back and look at the ages of the founders. You’ll be surprised
A shame it was never mentioned but the politicians of today do not carry themselves as the ones in the days of yore. Who today would pledge their âLives, Fortunes and sacred Honor.â? Names, please.
I wish JohnRob would recall where he hid the secret decoder ring.
These cut-&-paste posts difficult to read because of the strange character inserts for various punctuation marks.
Sorry, those strange do-daddies are the result of attempting to use quotation marks.
MN Johnnie, I’m sorry I’ve offended you by not mentioning your hero Mr Trump....
When my columns are this long (and yes, I admit this was almost 3000 words), I try to resist the temptation to throw in zingers that aren’t directly related...
The subject at hand was Carson’s big lie last week - a whopper so huge that if any Democrat had said it, we all would have pounced on him. He claimed that political experience doesn’t matter, and as proof, he claimed that none of the signers of the Declaration had any elected experience.
You KNOW that if a Dem said that, you’d slam him. It’s an outrageous whopper, no two ways about it.
So yes, my general opinion of the issue applies just as much to Fiorina and Trump. That’s true. But to the best of my knowledge, neither of them deserve to be slammed for this issue, because neither of them have ever CLAIMED that the Signers had no experience.
I’m not going to lump them all in as a uniform group. Carson told the whopper, so I slammed him. I may not be a famous writer or a well paid one, but I do try my best to be a fair one.
Carson is using the same rationale Obama used regarding his executive experience:
it is from running his own presidential campaign.
All candidates should be questioned about the contents of the book(s) they supposedly wrote.
Pollster1, yes, certainly many of our founders were young at the beginning of the revolution...
but most of the younger ones hadn’t done much of importance by the signing in 1776. The Carson quote concerned the signing of the Declaration, not the Constitutional Convention eleven years later.
Morris, Madison, and Hamilton were to play quite a role in the Constitutional Convention, but in 1776, only Hamilton had really done much for the cause (he had already written several unbelievably powerful articles, attacking Cooper and Seabury in the New York/ New Jersey area press. Amazing)...
No argument with your major point, that we had many great leaders who started out in their youth serving the cause. It’s just not relevant, because the issue at hand is whether the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were politically experienced - as they undeniably were. That’s all.
On the other hand, when he was governor of Virginia a few years later, he was not a success.
Young men make revolutions, but if they don't learn from experience quickly they can lose them.
These were the war years. We didn’t seat Washington until 1789.........so add 13 years to each of them.
‘The subject at hand was Carsonâs big lie last week - a whopper so huge that if any Democrat had said it, we all would have pounced on him.’
That’s the crux. Many of Carson’s comments would be skewered if they came from Dems. If Carson says them, they are considered off limits for questions and critique.
For such a smart man, Ben Carson might be the most naive Republican ever to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate.
Of course the Founders were experienced politicians. Each day Carson seems to do something new to convince us that he’s not a serious candidate, yet his drones, like Trump’s, won’t hear it.
Fascinating article, btw. Thanks for taking the time.
Well no wonder your so confident of your predictions on Carson. Your bosses are telling you it is so.
Patton@Bastogne: Boss, they are on to me!
Karl Rove: You know the drill, you take the RED pill and we deny any knowledge of you.
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