By Madeline Merrill
The United States Presidency has long been a string of Caucasian, male lawyers educated at some of the top higher educational institutions (namely, Ivy League schools) in the country. Most bring a wealth of political experience, time served in the military, and major governmental titles, as they were groomed to be in the political spotlight.
But along comes Dr. Ben Carson--retired pediatric neurosurgeon--a gentleman who knows admittedly little of foreign policy and the tangled nuances of governmental administration. Dr. Carson’s greatest professional achievements are in the hospital, not on PBS Newshour or CNN, but voters still see him as a viable candidate. Dr. Carson had been surging to second in national primary polls last month, with as high as 24 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters supporting him.
Dr. Carson’s bid for presidency begs the larger question--what is it that we, as Americans, seek in our elected leaders? As students of Public Policy, we seemingly buy into this larger concept that government must be studied, analyzed, quantified. Various levels of public administration, policy, and leadership are necessary to succeed.
….but if Dr. Carson wins, America publicly acknowledges that (gasp!) we do not need an advanced degree in Foreign Relations or International Studies to succeed in the District and abroad. That, in this rapidly changing, growing, and shifting world, what matters most is the ability to learn on the fly--not to build up pedagogical knowledge and a slew of impressive alma maters that catapult us to Washington and the White House front steps.
Dr. Carson publicly stated, “"In medicine we have something called continuing medical education. You have to get those credits in order to be recertified...I think that applies to every aspect of our lives, particularly in a rapidly changing world."
Can a candidate study foreign policy on the campaign trail? Do we as a country collectively believe that a leader can come from any discipline, as long as they possess the know-how to learn on the spot, and the grit to succeed?
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe--farmers, surveyors, botanists, and jacks-of-all-trades. Our nation’s history is one founded by leaders who studied across multiple disciplines. Is it time that we, as Americans, trust a leader who walks into conversations with North Korea’s top bureaucrats or China’s senior level appointees with no previous experience in negotiating?
We shall see, come Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
Madeline Merrill is a 2017 MPP candidate at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She serves as a Staff Writer for the Third Rail blog.