Our system of holding Presidential elections every four years has much to recommend it.
As soon as an individual becomes a candidate for the highest office in the land his or her background is scrutinized by the press and s/he is tested in a variety of public forums. Nevertheless, candidates are not required to take a written examination that would provide voters with important additional information regarding their aptitude for the job. We propose they be given such an examination.
The exam might be called The Presidential Aptitude Examination and it would test each candidate’s knowledge of history, economics, science and other subjects as well as her or his analytical ability and ethical judgment. In order that all candidates would have an opportunity to take the exam it would be given once every year and more often during a presidential election year.
The exam would be a multiple choice test modeled on Civil Service Examinations, Graduate Record Examinations and other standardized tests and vetted by a committee of scholars of all political persuasions. Then no candidate who refused to take the exam and have her or his scores made public would be a credible candidate for President.
No doubt the most controversial part of the Presidential Aptitude Examination would be the section that tested ethical judgment. But experts in psychometrics should have no difficulty in devising a Situational Judgment Test which would allow voters to clearly distinguish each candidates approach to ethical issues such as the right to life, gay marriage, and torture and to thereby place them on a spectrum from conservative to liberal or rank them according to whatever other scale is most important to them.
In short, the Presidential Aptitude Exam would provide voters with an objective measure by which to evaluate candidates. The New York Times quoted John McCain as declaring at a rally in Orlando, Florida on Monday, January 28 that he has “the knowledge, the background and the judgment” to take on the challenge of Islamic extremism. The Presidential Aptitude Exam would help voters determine the validity of that statement. Mitt Romney says he has a better understanding of economics than McCain. A test would enable us to determine the accuracy of that claim.
People regularly joke about George Bush’s lack of intelligence and Hillary Clinton’s lack of ethics yet millions of people voted for Bush in the last Presidential election and millions more are ready to vote for Clinton today. Of course the reason may be that voters do not accept a comedian’s characterization of a candidate as fair. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that if a clear metric existed which allowed voters to determine a candidate’s aptitude to be President of the United States we would be less likely to end up with a President who lacked the knowledge, intelligence or ethical judgment required for the job.
Paul Cantor is a professor of economics at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut
Roger Sparks is a professor of economics at Mills College in Oakland, California