If you want to be president, the path is pretty straightforward: go to an Ivy League or other high-profile college or join the military (or both); become a lawyer, continue in a military career or become a high-profile and outspoken member of your community; get elected to the U.S. Senate or as governor; gain your party's support; become president. Easy, right?
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Though the above is in jest, the path to presidency is rather homogeneous when you look at the past 50 years of presidents. It was a bit different for presidents from years ago, as there was no value placed on formal education. George Washington, for instance, finished school at 14 or 15 and became a surveyor. Abraham Lincoln had very little formal schooling and taught himself grammar, math and eventually law. Washington found his way to becoming president through war and the formation of the country, while Lincoln made his way from small-town lawyer to the House of Representatives. As values shift, so do the characteristics of U.S. presidents, and in the 20th and 21st centuries, the presidential resume changed. We look at what these resumes all have in common.
- Barack Obama (2009-Present)
Barack Obama got his B.A. from Columbia with a degree in political science. Following graduation, Obama joined the workforce as a community organizer in South Chicago. Obama eventually went to Harvard Law School, becoming the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated with his Juris Doctor in 1991. He followed this by becoming a lecturer and professor at the Chicago Law School for 12 years, teaching constitutional law. He then practiced law with a law firm specializing in civil rights litigation.
Obama became involved in politics and became a senator in Illinois in 1996, and was sworn into the U.S. Senate in 2005. He was sworn in as president in 2009. Obama's resume has many of the common presidential traits: a law degree, community work, being a member of the U.S. Senate and having attended an Ivy League university. (To learn more, check out Profitable Investing, Ivy League Style.)
- George W. Bush (2001-2009)
Obama's predecessor, the contentious George W. Bush, has a different pedigree than Obama. Whereas Obama had few political family connections, Bush had many, and also a fortune. Bush received his B.A. in history from Yale in 1968, and after failing to get into the University of Texas Law School, he went to Harvard Business School where he earned his MBA in 1975. Bush also served time in the Texas National Guard, though it's been disputed just how deeply involved he was at this position.
Bush went on to start his own oil company that was later bought by Harken in 1986. Bush served as a consultant and sat on the Board of Directors for Harken after the acquisition. He then became involved in his father's presidential campaign, as a campaign adviser. Shortly after this, Bush made his own foray into politics, becoming Governor of Texas before becoming president.
- Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Bill Clinton has a similar story to Obama, having been born with little in the way of political connections or wealth. It seems that when future presidents are born into these positions, their pre-presidential resume is even more impressive than the more fortunate presidents. Clinton went to Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and received a B.S. in Foreign Service.
During his college years, Clinton worked as an intern for Senator J William Fulbright, Arkansas Democrat. Following this he was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, taking philosophy, politics and economics, but he did not finish before enrolling at Yale Law School, where he received his JD in 1973. He then went on to teach law at the University of Arkansas.
In 1976, Clinton was elected Attorney General of Arkansas, and in 1978 was elected governor. After losing in 1980, Clinton was elected four more times as Governor of Arkansas from 1982 on. He won the Democratic nomination in 1992, and was sworn into office in 1993.
- Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Reagan was certainly an anomaly among the presidents. Reagan attended Eureka College and got a B.A., majoring in economics and sociology. Reagan was heavily involved at college, and was student president. Reagan went on to become an actor, and later the president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was famous for his anti-communist stance and was also fiscally and socially conservative.
After being the face of GE during a weekly television show that the company put on, Reagan attracted the attention of California Republicans who wanted him to run for governor of California. With his conservative political views and high-profile position, Reagan became governor in 1967, and later president in 1981. (For more, see The Power Of Economic Sanctions.)
- Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Last on our list is the infamous Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon, who received his law degree from Duke University, and was the president of the Duke Bar Association. He became a lawyer, and later became a partner at a law firm in 1939. He was voted into the House of Representatives and then into the U.S. Senate in 1950. Nixon became vice president in 1953, serving with President Eisenhower. Nixon was voted president in 1968, after losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960 - JFK, by the way, came from a politically influential family, had an undergrad at Harvard and served in the army; check, check and check.
The Bottom Line
The path to the president's office is always going to be challenging and nearly impossible to achieve, but when looking at presidents from the 20th and 21st centuries, the presidential resume has some must-haves. (For more, see 6 Outrageous Political Earmarks.)
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