Politics & Policy

The experience question, &c.

Jesse Helms (left) and Strom Thurmond

In the coming presidential campaign, we’ll hear a lot about experience: Cruz, Paul, Marco, some others — they don’t have enough experience. I have a rap on this, which I’d like to give you.

All things being equal, experience is helpful, of course — the presidency is a big job. But you know the old line when one candidate has less experience than the other. The less experienced candidate will say something like, “You’re right I don’t have as much experience as my opponent. In fact, I have no experience raising the deficit. No experience hiking taxes. No experience ignoring the Constitution. . . .”

The truth is, no one really cares about experience, unless your guy happens to be the more experienced candidate. Pat Leahy, the Vermont liberal, has lots of experience: He was elected to the Senate in 1974. Would conservatives prefer him to Cruz? Orrin Hatch, the Utah conservative, has lots of experience: He was elected to the Senate in 1976. Would liberals prefer him to Elizabeth Warren?

Joe Biden and John Kerry have tons of experience. For example, Biden was elected to the Senate in ’72, the year that George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee.

Ted Kennedy had lots and lots of experience: He was elected to the Senate in 1962 and stayed there until he died in 2009. And you know what? He was better, from my point of view, when he had less experience. In the mid-1960s, he was a Cold War liberal. He became left-wing, like an anthro prof at Bennington. Give me the Teddy of the 1960s over the Teddy of the 2000s anyday.

People say about Cruz, “We tried that” — we tried electing to the presidency a senator who had just arrived in Washington (Barack Obama). But what do you mean by “that”? Obama and Cruz have completely different views. Surely that must matter.

Yes, experience counts, when all things are equal — but all things are almost never equal. A person’s views, character, talent, and ability are of great importance.

I remember a charming bumper sticker from 20 years ago: “Helms-Thurmond ’96: Don’t let 200 years of experience go to waste.”

‐Yesterday, I had lunch with an excellent young man who may go into government soon. He said, a little sheepishly, “I don’t want to be on a government paycheck for long.” He didn’t mean that he wanted to make more money, in the private sector; he meant that it was a little embarrassing to work for the government — because he, like me, is a conservative Republican.

My view is: Don’t be embarrassed, at all. Government is important. We want good people in government. Conservatives should not leave the field to the Left. We want smaller and more limited government, of course — but government is essential, and if a bright, principled, and admirable person goes into it, hurray, I say.

You too?

‐A South African entertainer named Trevor Noah is set to take over from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show. I learned some things about him from this article. For instance, after the incident in Ferguson, Mo., he said, “I never thought I’d be more afraid of police here [in America] than in South Africa. It kind of made me nostalgic for the old days back home.”

From this other article, I learned of some low blows he has administered to Israel and Jews. For instance, there’s this remark: “South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.” I think he means that South Africans don’t know how to recycle.

Do Israelis know how to be peaceful? Oh, yes, very well. But their neighbors are determined that they not live in peace. Indeed, many of those neighbors are keen to annihilate them. Some of them are driving, fast, toward nuclear weapons.

In any event, it seems clear that Trevor Noah will fit right in — right into our culture as it is now constituted.

‐Like you, probably, I’ve been reading articles about Ashton Carter, Obama’s new defense secretary (or our new defense secretary, I should probably say). I’ve never particularly liked the phrase “adult in the room,” or “the adult in the administration” — but Carter seems to me just that.

I think I first noticed him when I was working on a magazine piece about SDI, or missile defense, or “Star Wars,” as Ted Kennedy and that type were pleased to call it. In 2010, Carter wrote a piece with Michele Flournoy for the Wall Street Journal. It was called “The Way Forward on Missile Defense.” It’s a good and encouraging piece, for an inveterate SDI-er like me.

Evidently, Flournoy turned down the chance to be SecDef in this administration. Carter accepted. I’m glad he’s there. We could do worse — a lot worse.

(When it comes to Carters, I’ll take Ash over Jimmy. And I’ll definitely take Nell.)

‐I thought this headline was funny, and true: “Liberal Dems, GOP cling to hope Warren runs for president.” (Article here.)

‐I didn’t think this headline was funny at all — but I thought it was astonishing: “Fleeing violence at home, Yemeni refugees arrive in Somalia.” (Article here.) A place so bad, you run to Somalia to get away from it.

‐I thought this headline was a little bit funny — you may have to read it twice to get the funniness, and amazingness, of it: “Thai leader moves to lift martial law, impose absolute power.” (Article here.)

‐When I read the following, my eyes widened, and I’ll tell you why: “A lawyer says a Thai military court has sentenced a businessman to 25 years in prison on charges of defaming the country’s monarchy, believed to be the longest sentence handed down in recent years for the crime of lese majeste.” (For the complete article, go here.)

I believe I have only heard “lèse-majesté” used in a figurative or playful sense. Bill Buckley used it frequently: If you criticized or contradicted some poobah, you had committed “an act of lèse-majesté.” But in Thailand, this was a literal offense, and a literal charge, and it will receive a literal punishment.

Holy crap.

‐Here was an amazing headline: “Obama golfs with big money, oil moguls in Florida.” (Article here.) I have 50 comments to make on this. I will confine myself to one: If George W. Bush had played golf with oil moguls . . .

(Actually, I’m quite pleased that Obama has spent time with oil moguls. Maybe they talked sense to him about energy.)

‐I saw a headline yesterday and, honestly, I thought the news service had made a mistake — they were running a story that had appeared weeks before. I’d written about the story, for National Review. This was yesterday’s headline: “Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh’s capital.”

There was no mistake. The story was indeed new (read it here). This was another blogger hacked to death on the streets of Dhaka by Islamists.

You know, I’m getting the feeling that these guys — the Islamists — may have to be confronted. You think?

‐I received a note from a famous scholar and foreign-policy analyst, born and raised in the Commonwealth. He was talking about the Republican presidential field. He wrote, “For our foreign-policy interests, I see several good choices. Anyway, I will just support the nominee; I’m a child of the Westminster system with little appetite for intra-party maneuvers.”

I loved those sentences.

‐And I loved what Roger Kimball wrote about Hilton Kramer, our late friend, and one of the founding editors of The New Criterion (which Roger now edits):

Hilton’s was always a lonely voice on the cultural landscape. For one thing, he was absolutely incorruptible. There was never any hint of positive reviews for favors given or go-with-the-flow acquiescence in the latest art world trends. Hilton always called things the way he saw them. And since he was so well informed and could draw upon an unusually wide range of cultural and intellectual reference, his judgments were respected even where they were feared or resented.

Hilton Kramer: what a critic, what a writer, what a man.

Anyway, thanks, everyone, and see you.


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