Over at his blog, David Frum asks: “If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?” Of course, the question is loaded.
This small town stuff is odd to me. If a candidate is mayor of a large town, does that make her more qualified for the vice presidency or presidency? Don’t we need to know more? Is Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick more qualified than any small town mayor? Is any major city mayor more qualified than any small town mayor? I suppose the question can also be asked: Is a big state governor more qualified than a small state governor, based on the size and diversity of the state alone? Or don’t we need to know more? So, Frum’s line about a small town mayor is by itself useless in analyzing a candidate’s qualifications.
Now, let’s turn to the word “untested.” It’s not clear if by this Frum means untested in a particular field, such as foreign policy, or untested on national issues generally. Since the president is tested in ways no governor or senator can ever be tested in terms of confronting the kinds of issues that come to his office, it seems Frum would be excluding anyone who hasn’t already been president, or maybe he’s including only those who’ve served as vice president. But surely serving in Congress is not, by itself, much of a test of a person’s executive skills (including as commander in chief). Congress is a legislative body where group decisions are made. It requires a set of largely different skills and competencies to succeed as a legislator. Perhaps this is one reason why so few senators have succeeded in becoming president over our history. And, of course, a person can be tested in many ways having nothing to do with government at all. So what, exactly, is the test?
I think the test comes down to judgment. And in making that determination we take the measure of the person. For most of us that includes examining his public record, family life, associations, successes, and failures, priorities, motivating principles, challenges faced, etc. These are the experiences we look at. It is a mistake to say that a candidate is untested because of a pundit’s unfamiliarity with her, which is what Frum is really saying (he provides no other basis for his position, dismissing Palin because she is from a small town and “untested”).
In Palin, McCain did not pick a nobody. The more I learn about her, the more I like her. She has been tested in both her private life and government service in ways that give us a sense of who she is, what kind of judgment she has, and what principles motivate her. And part of that judgment includes knowing what you don’t know and surrounding yourself with experts who share your objectives. Whomever serves as vice president does so not alone but surrounded by a staff of experts.
We reject Obama because of his poor judgment, which we glean from his experiences — his public and private record, bad associations, dissembling, radical principles, and miserable legislative decisions.