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Two Alumni Explore Historical and Contemporary Political Elections in Respective Books

Two Pepperdine School of Law alumni have recently published books exploring two disparate yet integral elements of United States government and politics. Chris DeRose (JD ’05), a long-time history buff who came across an offhand reference to a neglected piece of American history, explores one of the most crucial congressional elections in American history in Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights, and the Election that Saved a Nation. Jamin Soderstrom ('02, JD ’08), whose interest in presidential history and politics developed after the 2000 elections, offers a contemporary view of election practices and proposes a modern alternative to selecting the nation’s president in Qualified: Candidate Resumes and the Threshold for Presidential Success.

Creating History

In Founding Rivals, DeRose, a criminal law and civil litigation attorney at the DeRose Law Firm in Phoenix, AZ, emphasizes the significance of James Madison and James Monroe’s 1789 congressional race, which ultimately enabled the creation of the Bill of Rights. “It was the only time in history that two future presidents have contested a congressional seat,” explains the author, underscoring the emergence of the weightiest issues discussed in the country, such as, “Should we have a Constitution or a Bill of Rights? What should be considered a fundamental right?” he says. “This election encompassed all of these major debates at the very heart of America’s identity.”

DeRose suggests that the neglect of such an important piece of American history is due to it being bookended by other significant events, namely the beginning of the Constitutional government and the inauguration of George Washington as president. The time between the Revolution and the creation of our present government is largely ignored in history books,” he continues. “Talk about skipping over some of the most important events in American history!”

In an effort to remedy this rift, DeRose’s tome recalls the historical campaign, reviews the candidates’ platforms, and offers the first insightful, comprehensive history of this political event.

One of the most remarkable things readers will find in the book, among the extensive political historical wisdom, is that the same challenges seem to confront every generation. “This was an America that was very divided, almost in danger of breaking up, and faced with a crippling national debt. It seemed that the political system was paralyzed and that the government couldn’t make decisions for the country,” he explains, implying the similarities between past and present administrations. “They found a way to navigate and we will, too. We need to.”

Determining the Past, Present, and Future

Soderstrom’s debut tome offers an engaging look at presidential election history starting with George Washington and continuing through President Obama in the 2012 elections. In Qualified, the author investigates the factors that qualify presidential nominees as such and proposes a resume challenge that modernizes the presidential hiring process.

What Soderstrom hopes for is linear requirements for all job applicants in the country, wherein a formal resume must be submitted and analyzed prior to job procurement. “I want the process to be implemented in presidential politics,” he contends. “I ask readers to accept the resume challenge and insist that presidential candidates do what every other job applicant does in America.”

Soderstrom, a law clerk to Judge Harold R. DeMoss, Jr., of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, explains the “qualifying threshold” as “essentially, the minimum score a presidential candidate needs to have in order to have a high probability of becoming a successful president.” The author’s evaluation factors include legislative, executive, military, foreign, and private experience; education and intellect; and writing and public speaking ability. More importantly, the threshold helps voters distinguish those candidates they merely agree with and like from the ones who can actually do the job.

Soderstrom provides well-researched resumes for each of the country’s 43 presidents that show their qualifications at the time of their election. “No other book has ever broken it down in the familiar form of a modern resume,” he explains. The one-page overviews are comprised of objective, non-partisan analysis based on historical fact, while putting elections “into practical effect by focusing on the current candidates and their qualifications for the presidency.”

The author approached the topic with specific intent. “I needed to know if they were a great president or failed president,” he explains. “I didn’t use hindsight to judge them based on their qualifications. I had no idea if Thomas Jefferson was highly qualified or barely qualified.” Rather, he used a comparative analysis to determine each president’s strengths in relation to each other.

Throughout his research and evaluation, Soderstrom found that voters and the media focus largely on a candidate’s likeability and values, factors the author claims are largely ineffective in determining a suitable president. “If they are not actually capable of performing and providing quality treatment, it doesn’t matter if you agree with them or even like them,” insists Soderstrom. “They’re professionals whether or not you agree if a nice liberal philosophy is the direction you want the country to go in.” He urges voters to “first look at who is capable of doing the job, narrow it down to those qualified candidates, and see which you like and agree with most.”

Soderstrom’s ultimate conclusion was that many former, current, and potential presidential candidates did not meet the qualifications as determined by the qualifying threshold. Another surprise was that no incumbent president running for reelection has ever lost to an unqualified candidate. “The American people can sniff out someone who is not very qualified and generally go in favor of the incumbent,” concludes Soderstrom. “If the Republicans end up nominating an unqualified person during the current election, history shows that President Obama will be reelected.”