Editorial: Competency tests for presidential candidates a bright idea

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Nikki Haley does not mince words.

In announcing her bid for the Republican nomination for president last week, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations put candidates’ ages front and center.

As Politico reported, Haley, 51, expressed support for a policy mandating mental competency tests for politicians older than 75.

It’s an issue that’s been on many voters’ minds since Joe Biden hit the campaign trail in April 2019. Stumbles – both verbal and stair-related – have given rise to questions about his fitness for the job at 80 years old.

Fellow octogenarian Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wasn’t having it.

“We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia — I think we should also be fighting ageism,” Sanders told “Face the Nation” Margaret Brennan Sunday.

Politicians should be judged for their beliefs, the 81-year-old said.

“There are a lot of 40-year-olds out there who ain’t particularly competent. Older people, you know, you look at the individual. I don’t think you make a blanket statement,” said Sanders.

Haley is right – but only by half.

All candidates for president should have to pass a mental competency test, regardless of age. Think of  it as a political version of the SAT – candidates would have to demonstrate at the very least a working knowledge of the Constitution, what factors trigger economic expansion and recession, key industries that are experiencing layoffs and worker shortages, and come up with three ways to solve those problems.

They don’t have to be experts on foreign relations, but they would need to show a solid grasp of geography and global alliances.

Candidates should understand how inflation works, and how spending trillions of dollars does not equal zero.

Presidential debates give but a glimpse of candidates’ competencies. They’re about performance, giving as good as they get and verbal sparring. The goal is to project an image of being the best person for the job, and to give their agendas and buzzwords a good airing before the American people.

Having a catchy slogan is an indication of a crack campaign team, not of a candidate’s smarts or depth of knowledge. Meet-and-greet sessions in small-town diners are all about the photo op, ditto cozy chats with senior citizens and high-fiving union workers (depending on one’s political bent).

Voters need to know that presidential candidates know what they’re doing. They may not agree with their approach to a problem, but those casting ballots should at least feel secure that their choice has the acumen to take on the job at hand.

Our election cycles and endless campaigns are more about the sizzle than the steak. Who appears more presidential, or sounds more authoritative, or has the “common” touch. All that is window dressing.

A basic political competency test given to all candidates – regardless of age – would give the voting public a non-partisan opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize one thing: Capitol Hill will hate the idea.




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