Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin, and the experience question
Truman and Reagan showed that character and common sense matter more than a good résumé.
The nominating conventions, each dramatic in different ways, are nearly done and Americans are on the last lap toward the new presidency.Skip to next paragraph
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Sen. Barack Obama promises billions for good works but is sketchy about how to pay for them. Sen. John McCain promises to bring the troops home with honor and victory, but nobody knows how this will really leave Iraq.
Obama will continue to dazzle us until Nov. 4 with charismatic eloquence. McCain, who never met a teleprompter he liked, will continue to exude sincerity in smaller gatherings.
Both sides are seized with the issue of "experience," which probably will weigh heavily with the voters.
But what does experience mean? Does it mean academic achievement? Running a big corporation? Many years in governance? Or does it mean principle, character, and common sense?
William F. Buckley, that acerbic but astute late observer of our times, once declared: "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard University."
In recent years, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan have come to be considered among America's most effective presidents. Yet the experience of each for presidential office was held in question prior to their respective installations.
Truman never went to college but his biographer, David McCullough, says he read voraciously. By 14 he had devoured volumes on Egypt, Greece and Rome. In high school he claimed to have read every one of 2,000 books, including encyclopedias, in the school library. Except for a stint in Europe as a National Guard officer in World War I, he was not well-traveled.
Despite doubts about his qualifications for office, it was he as president who had to make the difficult decisions to use the atomic bomb, commit American forces to Korea, and help create the United Nations.