The Corner

Re: The Qualification Debate — Winning and governing are the same tasks

David Frum wrote:

Can we conservatives please stop kidding ourselves about Barack Obama’s “qualifications”? Yes, if I had been a Democratic donor back in 2006, I’d sure worry about whether Barack Obama had what it took to be president. That was before he took on the toughest political operation in America, before he beat Bill and Hillary Clinton, before he won 18 million primary votes.

Obama’s nomination was not handed to him. He fought hard for it and won against the odds. “Qualifications” predict achievement. Once you have achieved, it doesn’t matter what your qualifications are. Who cares whether the guy who built a big company from nothing didn’t have much of a resume when he started? But if you are applying to run a big company built by somebody else, the resume matters …

Mark Levin pointed out that Sarah Palin, too, had won elections against the odds, so, by Frum’s logic she should be fine.

Well, no — to both of you. The fact is that running for president (and lesser offices) is grueling and requires a great deal of skill, political knowledge, and organization. Those are political skills, many of which depend on bringing in the right operatives. David Axelrod, who is running Obama’s campaign appears to be a genius at this stuff. And Mark Penn, who was Hillary’s chief strategist, was overrated. (Steve Schmidt is better by a mile than anyone any GOP candidate has used this round.)

But, even if the candidate made all of the strategic, inside-baseball political calls himself — which counties to set up offices in, where to concentrate on caucuses, and what primaries to contest with how much manpower — it does not tell you that the candidate is well equipped for governing. We use campaigning, especially in presidential races — and to our peril in this two-year cycle — as a proxy for meeting the rigors of office. Running a campaign, especially one where media is the key to creating an impression — bears little relation to setting up a business or inventing some new product that sell. It’s true that you can go to a third-rate school and build a great company, and the latter achievement trumps the implications of the former.

Winning a primary, with it’s jerry-rigged rules, or even a national election, is not an absolute indicator that you were the candidate who would do the best job at the substantive aspects of being president. Running and governing are not the same job. Just as winning a battle in a war means you had the better military — not that the proposition for which you are fighting is thereby true.

David is right that we shouldn’t underestimate Obama, who is a very tough politician. He may well muscle his way to the oval office. But I fail to see why that means he is either ready for the office, or has the — yes — judgement to make the right calls on the subtantive issues of our time once in it. If winning were directly analogous to governing there would be no failed presidencies. And how would we explain Jimmy Carter?

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