Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin, and the experience question
Truman and Reagan showed that character and common sense matter more than a good résumé.
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Adlai Stevenson III cited him as an "example of the ability of this society to yield up, from the most unremarkable origins, the most remarkable men."Skip to next paragraph
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Biographer David McCullough says Truman "stood for common sense."
Reagan had been a governor of California, a state bigger than many countries, but still was dismissed as a former B-movie actor with little depth, when he came to the presidency.
I remember Secretary of State George Shultz returning from his one-on-one meetings with President Reagan. He would give us, his small team of advisers, a debrief on the president's current ideas about nuclear weaponry, the Soviet empire, and strategic relations. Some of the foreign policy traditionalists dismissed them as impractical. Reagan held to his instincts and – lest we forget – played a crucial role in ending the cold war. Today he is lauded for achievements to which he applied good common sense.
McCain is properly revered for his heroism as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. His experience in foreign affairs is unchallenged, as is the foreign-affairs expertise of Senator Biden.
Obama, still in his first senate term, and Ms. Palin, who's been governor for less than two years, are held to much sharper scrutiny about how their experience qualifies them for the positions they seek.
McCain's age is sometimes raised as another question mark.
But if you average the ages of the McCain-Palin team and the Obama-Biden team, they are just a couple of years apart. (How intriguing to speculate that if McCain wins, serves only one term, and Palin runs as successor, we might see a presidential contest in 2012 that features two women: Palin and a resurgent Hillary Clinton.)
Voters should of course examine the policy differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates. But principle, character, and common sense should get even sharper scrutiny.
Having spent a good part of my life covering changes in government around the world determined by the bayonet and bloodshed, tanks and coups at the palace gates, or theft and illegal stuffing of ballot boxes, I continue to marvel at the peaceful democratic way in which the change of government takes place in the most militarily and economically powerful nation in the world.
Though the process is too long, and sometimes ungainly, Americans should treasure it.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration. He is currently a professor of international communications at Brigham Young University.