A Résumé is Not Enough
Frank Rich notes that established candidates in both parties are struggling against comparative upstarts.
We can only imagine what is going on inside John McCain’s head when he contemplates Mike Huckabee. It can’t be pretty. No presidential candidate in either party has more experience in matters of war than the Arizona senator, and yet in a wartime election he is being outpaced by a guy who has zero experience and is proud of it.
“I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy,” Mr. Huckabee joked to Don Imus, “but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.” So much for the gravitas points earned during a five-and-a-half year stay at the Hanoi Hilton.
As it happens, I asked McCain this very question on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, albeit somewhat more colorfully phrased. McCain laughed appreciatively and gave his standard answer: “Life isn’t fair.”
His serious answer, though, was actually quite elegant. We’ve had a good number of debates and opportunities for the candidates to shine and Huckabee has shined on those appearances. He comes across as a decent, personable guy and people like him. He’s answering tough questions in a way that gives a lot of people confidence.
That, I think, is better than Rich’s conclusion. Noting that Bill Clinton is working hard to hammer home Barack Obama’s relative inexperience without success, Rich believes a lack of experience may be seen as a virtue in today’s “youth-obsessed culture.”
For this, of course, Rich blames Bush.
The rabid hunger for change, it turns out, has made the very idea of experience as toxic as every other attribute of the Bush White House. The once-heralded notion of a C.E.O. presidency, overstocked with “tested” Washington and Fortune 500 executives like Cheney and Rumsfeld, is now in the toilet with Larry Craig. You couldn’t push the pendulum further in the other direction than by supporting a candidate like Mr. Huckabee, who is blatantly unprepared to be president and whose most impressive battle has been with his weight. In a Rasmussen poll in Florida, Mr. Huckabee even did well among foreign-policy-minded Republicans whose most important issue is Iraq.
The irony here, of course, is that Bush himself was quite inexperienced by presidential standards. Yes, he surrounded himself with a hyper-experienced staff. But perhaps having little choice but to defer to their wisdom is problematic?
Rich ends his column on a more insightful note: Experience provides the opportunity to make mistakes. Too many of those on one’s résumé isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially if they’re recent and one hasn’t demonstrated having learned from them.
Ultimately, I don’t believe either Huckabee or Obama will get their parties’ nominations and a lack of experience, especially on the foreign policy front, will be a large part of the reason. But that’s going to require the more established candidates to do more than simply proclaim their experience; they must show what they’ve learned and why that’s going to be important in leading the country.
McCain’s time as prisoner of war three and a half decades ago doesn’t qualify him to be president. Plenty of men endured that hell and few of them have the qualities necessary to be commander-in-chief. The leadership he showed during his struggles, though, and the way in which they shaped his life, should be a huge advantage if he can express how they’ve prepared him to lead the country.