History offers examples of life experiences serving as a useful guide to presidents.
Airline pilot: Excuse me, Captain. This may seem silly, but can you fly?
"Dirty Harry" Callahan: Nope. Never had a lesson.
-- "MAGNUM FORCE," 1973
John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate has sparked another election-year debate over experience on the presidential ticket. Palin is not the first candidate to undergo the experience gauntlet. Barack Obama's Democratic primary opponents -- including his running mate, Joe Biden -- questioned his experience for the top job, and indeed, Obama's choice of Biden added credentials to the Democratic ticket. Scrolling back through recent elections, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, Geraldine Ferraro, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all were accused of not having the right background for running the country.
The experience question is now squarely on the public's radar. In short, does the person and his or her background matter most, or are other factors as important, if not more, in predicting success?
History is full of examples of how life and work experiences play a major role in how presidents govern, and in particular how they manage the inevitable crises that come across their desks. President Dwight Eisenhower, when confronted with the recommendation from military advisers and Vice President Richard Nixon to intervene with nuclear weapons to save French forces in Vietnam, responded, "You boys must be crazy." He said to the Joint Chiefs: "I want you to carry this question home with you: Gain such a victory, and what do you do with it?" Ike's military background -- as well as his contemporary knowledge of the devastation from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings -- gave him the perspective to stare down his own generals.
source: Some hints of leadership quality do lie in the past
Minneapolis Star Tribune, MN