A long resume, and decades of experience is simply no guarantee of a good performance once in office. Vice President Cheney is a terrific example of this. Cheney has been a congressman from Wyoming, a white house chief of staff, CEO of Halliburton, and a defense secretary. In other words, Cheney is amply qualified for his office. Yet despite all this experience, Cheney has been a leading architect of an utterly failed policy in Iraq. Much of President Bush's team is similarly well qualified. Donald Rumsfeld had already served as Secretary of Defense, but that experience didn't stop him from ignoring the advice of commanders on the ground, or badly mishandling a deteriorating situation.
Plenty of other Presidents who had decades of experience and lots of high positions in government have been failures as chief executive. John Quincy Adams was brilliant. He was a Harvard Professor, a congressman, and a secretary of state before occupying the White House. But today, no one can name a notable achievement of his while he was in office. Most Americans probably couldn't even name him. In spite of all his intelligence and experience, Adams had a lackluster and forgettable tenure.
The most egregious example must be James Buchanan however. Again, Buchanan held many previous positions and had decades of experience. He was a US Senator, and a Secretary of State. Despite all this experience, Buchanan did nothing as the Union crumbled around him during the lead-up to the Civil War in the 1850s. These examples and many more show that years of experience do not prepare aspirants to the White House for the Presidency.
Buchanan's successor was another man from Illinois who had only spent two years in Congress. His name was Abraham Lincoln, and he did what previous Presidents (all of whom had spent more years in government) failed to do: he saved the Union. He managed to do so because of his dogged determination, and his undying vision of one United States. It's also worth noting here that Lincoln took advice from his commanders on the ground, and was willing to try different strategies to beat the confederacy, a lesson our current President would do well to learn.
What the electorate should look for in President is vision and judgment. These are things that can be readily discerned during a heavily scrutinized campaign. During the debates, and the campaign rallies, and the major policy addresses, and the stump speeches, we can see where a President wants to lead the country, and how he or she behaves under pressure. The campaign will answer for all the question of who has the most compelling vision for America, not a polished resume.
I maintain that Obama has that compelling vision. His address at the 2004 Democratic convention showed he believes strongly in personal responsibility, honesty in government, better access to healthcare, and a world-class education system. He is a fresh face who wants to move beyond the intense partisanship of the Clinton and Bush years, and has reached across the aisle, even to conservatives like Sam Brownback. For Americans who are tired of being divided by Karl Rove and Machiavellian political strategists, Obama represents a chance for a new politics of civility and purpose. He is of a different generation of politicians than Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and therefore does not have the same political baggage they do. His vision is best summed the title of his latest book, the audacity of hope. Obama is America's chance for a more hopeful politics and a better future.
I also strongly believe that Obama is running for the right reasons: he has a clear vision that he wants to take before the country. Obama has said before that you don't run for the Presidency on the basis of ambition alone. The Presidency is too serious and sober a responsibility to run just for that reason. Obama knows there is a desperate need for unity and hope in our country, and thinks he can deliver both as a President.
One of the most critical questions facing America is how to conduct its foreign policy. Here, Obama's biography gives him a unique ability to understand the problem of global poverty, which is one of the root causes of terrorism. As a kid he attended various schools in Indonesia, and witnessed the distress of third-world poverty first hand. He knows the plight of the world's poor, and I predict he will make the first bona fide effort of any President to do something about the poverty rampant in many parts of the globe. If anyone understands the link between national security and global poverty, it is Obama.
Detractors will always find reasons why Obama couldn't or shouldn't be President. They say his middle name is Hussein, that he smoked pot once, and that he made a bad land deal. But the country is ready for a new politics, and a new generation of leadership. America needs a man of vision and principle. Obama is that man, and I submit that he is more than ready to lead.