With the 2008 presidential campaign field winnowed to the three left standing, two Democrats and one Republican, the issue of experience, or lack thereof, has become a measuring stick for two of them at the predictable expense of the third. One touts her 35 years of experience as readying her to assume the role of commander-in-chief “from Day One,” while the other counts his years of military and political accomplishments as his inherent legacy to the top of the stair. Both decry the third as woefully unseasoned.
In reality, not one of the three has been tested in the governing or executive sense of the examining of evidence and advice critical to both domestic and world affairs and the taking of responsibility for the ultimate decision as well as the consequences of its success or failure. As U.S. senators, their primary functions are legislation plus advice and consent — they are virtually never held accountable for the result.
Of the three candidates, McCain owns the only leadership credentials, having commanded a sizable Navy aircraft squadron. As such, Senator McCain was charged with the responsibility of the training, welfare and discipline of his personnel, the performance and maintenance of millions of dollars worth of aircraft and equipment, and the accomplishment of a national defense mission.
Senator Clinton may well believe her claims of being a tried and tested candidate; nevertheless, her years in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and in the White House were as the First Lady — her husband made and took the heat or credit for the executive decisions. To be fair, she is respected as an effective senator, but her one foray into political action — health care — was an unmitigated disaster.
The last member of the trio, Senator Obama, a gifted orator, has used that platform to decry the charges of lack of experience and to gain advantage as well. He describes his skills as a political organizer in the streets as leadership germane and living overseas as foreign policy expertise. He also attests that, as a relative newcomer, he is not poisoned by the Washington influence of “business as usual.” It appears to be working.
None possess the requisite executive skills but, in realizing that prior experience is no guarantee of future performance, one must look elsewhere in order to rate the candidates. In examining the two Democrats first, while not doubting the sincerity of their intent, I am most concerned with two areas: fiscal responsibility and naivete in national defense.
Differing only in degree, their campaigns have issued promissory notes in the fields of universal health care, education, tax breaks for those who pay little or no taxes, welfare and the environment that they cannot possibly cover. Their insistence that this can be accomplished painlessly merely by raising the taxes of those making more than $250,000 per year, seizing excess corporate profits, raising the capital gains tax and ending government waste sounds good but ignores reality. American corporations are already taxed at the second highest rate in the world — Exxon Mobile Corp., for example, paid 2006 income taxes of 42 percent or $27.9 billion. And, why punish the more than 60 percent of Americans who earn capital gains?
Even more disturbing is the obvious disconnect from reality in national defense strategy. I do understand Senator Clinton’s desire to appeal to the pragmatic as well as the party’s leftist base in her vacillating positions on the war. Nevertheless, that message is hardly reassuring. Neither is her disclaimer on the original authorizing vote that she did not realize it was a commitment to enable the use of force. A senator should know better — a president must.
As for Senator Obama, worthy intent aside, other than promising dialogue with enemies and friends alike, there is little substance. While the idea of diplomacy has merit, some of us recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his ill-fated late-1930s policy of appeasement toward another maniac, Adolph Hitler.
Finally, there is Senator McCain, who was not my first choice nor my second or even my third. Nevertheless, his commitment to fiscal responsibility and unwavering position in the war on terror renders him the superior option. He is also not prone to making promises that he does not intend to honor.
J. Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. E-mail him at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.