Blogs > HNN > Obama Fever

Oct 27, 2006 6:59 pm

Obama Fever

Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN and the author of Presidential Ambition.

(Click here and here for more recent POTUS blogs on this subject.)

I was hoping the Democrats' Obama fever would break quickly. If it's going to happen there's no sign of it yet. It's Obama Obama Obama. Everywhere Obama.

I have nothing against Obama. In fact, I like him. What's not to like? Anybody who can run the Harvard Law Review and sound as articulate and intelligent as the charismatic Obama should be considered a comer.

But presidential material? Come on, Democrats. Let's get serious. Put the US government in the hands of someone who's been a senator for all of two years?

Frank Rich in today's Times says that Obama's short resume should be no more of a bar to running than Bush's was. Huh? Now we are going to use Bush as the gold standard against which to compare future presidents?

The reverse is what's needed. Anybody like Bush we should run away from.

Rich argues that more years in the Senate will hardly improve Obama. But surely a few more years would be helpful, wouldn't it? He might at least come to understand how Washington works.

We wouldn't pick a heart surgeon fresh out of school to operate on say, Bill Gates. Too much would be at stake. But we're ready to turn over the most powerful government in the history of the planet to a person with 2 years experience in the Senate and a few terms as a state senator thrown in for good measure?

This is classic American boneheadedness.

It's a sign of our immaturity as a democracy that serious people would even consider this.

A review of recent history would suggest we haven't done well with presidents with thin resumes. Carter was a disaster and Bush even worse. So we should again turn to somebody who hasn't been tested?

What I want in a president is someone who, say, has had the responsibility of running a major organization with thousands of people whose very lives depended on his/her decisions. Surely in a country of 300 million the Democrats can find one or two who meet this minimal criteria and who share their vision for the future.

Some will argue that a good resume is no guarantee of wisdom or leadership ability. That's true, of course. Bush I was a good president but hardly an inspirational leader despite his lengthy resume. But he was a helluva lot better president than his son. His experience no doubt was a factor in his making wiser choices than his son. (No one is likely asking him anymore why he didn't take out Saddam in 1991.)

But of course in the age of television all we can think of is how a person comes across on the tube. It's all personality now.

In a world where North Koreans have the bomb and Iran's leader wants to end Israel's existence this would seem a time for seriousness.

Well, America, isn't it?

Here's a test. Ask yourselves WWFFD: What Would the Founding Fathers Do? Would they turn the reins of power over to Obama? When they were given the chance they found a Washington. Don't we have any more Washingtons? Or was a country of 4 million able to produce a higher leadership class than a country of 300 million?

Related Links

  • Robert S. McElvaine: An Obama Presidency for Lincoln’s Two-Hundredth Birthday

  • Michael Kazin: Why Obama's a star

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    More Comments:

    Thomas Martin Sobottke - 11/25/2006


    Let me also join the chorus and point out that a certain politician from Illinois, a man who had only two years in the House of Representatives, and a career in the Illinois legislature that was long but completly unappreciated beyond his home state, became our greatest President, if not the American first in peace, first in war, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.

    It is correctly argued that Abraham Lincoln as presented in 1860 would not be qualified by present standards for the office of President of the United States.

    Yet, he became one of our two greatest presidents if not the best we have ever had.

    Senator Obama is from Illinois too. How appropriate. As a sucker who has remained in Badger country here in Wisconsin, I have an affection for my fellow suckers who strive for achievement.

    I agree that it would be ideal for all of our candidates for the presidency to serve long internships in the Senate, House, as Governors and in the cabinet and more.

    But sometimes we just need somebody and the right man comes along. Such may be the case with Mr. Obama.

    As has been pointed out, Mr. Bush's record as a politician is not all that long when you get beyond his years as Texas governor. His record as a business executive is disasterous to say the least. Daddy has continually had to bail him out again and again. Iraq is no exception.

    Ulysses S. Grant had a quick rise from a sometimes town drunk in Galena, Illinois to President between 1861 and 1868: a mere seven years. And the Republic survived.

    I just do not accept the need for all of our candidates to have long, long records of service in government.

    Integrity,intelligence, compassion, and ability count too. Senator Obama has them all.

    Thomas Martin Sobottke

    Andrew J. Grgurich - 10/30/2006

    Sorry! I thought I wrote 1940.

    It is the huge push for Obama in the media that reminded me of Wilkie.

    I suspect Obama will end up nominated as vice-president.

    john crocker - 10/26/2006

    "Consider Obama sitting across from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They've fought wars. He's fought ... who exactly?"
    Who had Reagan, Clinton or Bush jr. fought?

    Jason Blake Keuter - 10/26/2006

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but you did write a book on populism. Lincoln clearly fit that mold but harvard educated Osama does not. You are tryinng to play Osama's limited experience up as a virtue, but generally, it is limited experience with Washington insider culture that outsiders ham up as a virtue. In other words, it is coupled with a distinctly anti-elitist cultural appeal. Osama simply lacks that kind of outsider status.

    On balance, he's about as strong a candidate as Dukakis, who overdid his immigrant status in an attempt to garner popular appeal but had a lot of government experience. Osama could try to ham up his immigrannt status, but it would smell as inauthentic as Bob Dole's attempts to be plastic.

    Lincoln was grossly underestimated and he cultivated a hick image and disarmed the more radical Republican establishment that settled on him as a default candidate precisely because of his obscurity. I think it's safe to say that Osama is grossly OVERESTIMATED and more likely to be done in by the establishment.

    A Lincoln parallel might work better with Bill Clinton, who was a centrist thought to be on the far left by his opponents. Lincoln was a centrist but was considered a black Republican nonetheless. Clinton also adroitly manipulated the more radical wing of the Democratic party into supporting him. Think of how he started : he ran for the Presidency to change the Democratic party from the party of blacks to a party that could regain Reagan Democrats. By the end of his Presidency, his most loyal consituents were African Americans!

    The other parallel is that Clinton left no lasting legacy for his party. After Lincoln's passing, the radical establishment of the Republican party re-asserted itself and seized power. The same seems to be happening with the Democrats now. While they invoke the Clinton Presidency as some kind of golden age, they forget that Clinton was far, far closer to Joe Lieberman than Nancy Pelosi. In fact, he believed that Nancy Pelosi's vision for the Democratic Party doomed the Democratic Party to Presidential extinction.

    One last parallel might be found in George Bush and Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson was a notoriously inept speaker who had political capital but squandered it because so many found him personally repugnant. There were other issues involved, of course, but the personality of Andrew Johnson was of considerable importance in galvanizing the Radical Republicans and weakening support for Johnson.

    Jason Blake Keuter - 10/26/2006


    Thanks. I enjoyed the article and all the comments. Keep 'em coming, as I will expect some new names to start popping up.


    HNN - 10/25/2006

    Hi Bob,

    At this early date in the process it seems to me we ought to be able to discuss the flaws in our mass political system without worrying overly much about practical politics.

    We're not all ward heelers.

    Particularly on a website like this one we ought to be able to point out the flaws in a democratic system in which an Obama, a man with little national experience, is suddenly tooted as a serious presidential candidate.

    My goal is to jump start a debate about the system we have. The system is barely functional. Half the people don't vote. Most of those who do don't know what the issues are at stake or how to think about them clearly. Did you know that only 2 in 5 Americans know we have 3 branches of government?

    What kind of democracy is that?

    I'll tell you. It's a highly deficient one.

    Arthur Schlesinger has asked what makes us think our democracy is permanent. What indeed.

    And after watching the fuss being made about Obama I seriously wonder. If we cannot see the shallowness of a system that delivers up an Obama as a serious candidate we have lost our perspective. Or at any rate our sense of humor. It's laughable.

    It's not quite as bad as California electing The Arnold or Minnesota electing Jesse. But it's darn close.

    HNN - 10/25/2006

    Hi Jason,

    All good points.


    Jason B Keuter - 10/25/2006

    I agree with your assessment of Eisenhower. He also knew how to neutralize the radicals within his own party (John Birchers and Asia Firsters). One might say the same of Truman - a very successful bi-partisan President.

    Jason B Keuter - 10/25/2006

    It is Obama's lack of a record that makes him appealing to so many Democratic Party activists worried about a Hilary or John Kerry candidacy. Obama can play the moderate for a general election and win the primaries as a default candidate (i.e. a better general election possibility than Clinton or Kerry)and, because he's black, win the primaries due to vague symbolism. The fact that he's not associated with traditional black only Civil Rights organizations allows him to represent a continuation of Bill Clinton's and the DLC's now forgotten efforts to move the Democratic Party away from the welfare state and towards the center. In other words, he's a center left Colin Powell.

    It is thus understandable why some within the Democratic Party are pushing his candidacy - as for his ability to govern, that is a different issue.

    Unlike Bush, I don't think Obama will be able to play the Washington outsider very well. His Harvard credentials work against him in trying to win the ever important populist (anti-elitist) vote; the only way he could do that would be to cease being himself (a successful, bourgeois second generation black immigrant). This would carry the additional problem of alienating the very moderate constituencies the Democrats need to woo in order to win the White House.

    The other fascinating detail will be the leadership composition of a Democratic Congress. It will be left and the President will have campaigned to the center. This should put the two on a collision course that was the story of both the Carter Presidency and the first term of the Clinton Presidency. Arguably, Clinton got more done with a Republican Congress than he did with the Democratic Congress.

    Or we have a familiar scenario : a Republican President and a Democratic Congress.

    Andrew D. Todd - 10/24/2006

    The governors aren't going to declare just yet, of course. They'll do that some time in 2007. I don't know if Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania is interested, but if he is, he might be to your taste. Before he was governor of Pennsylvania, he was mayor of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia is something approaching the original Augean Stable. Not one, but two Mafia godfathers, MOVE, etc. Rendell had a man named Bennet Levin, his Alexander Hamilton, an independently wealthy retired consulting engineer, who Rendell put in as Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections, that is, the building department and sundry related things.;lr=&q=%2B%22bennett+levin%22+%2Bphiladelphia&btnG=Search

    Here is a hearing transcript in which Levin was testifying about superfund issues.

    Levin demonstrated remarkable efficiency in clearing the abandoned burnt-out buildings which had accumulated over a couple of decades of decline. The next president is going to have to do something drastic about energy independence and global warming, which means that the Energy and Transportation Departments are going to be much too important to be given to the usual political hack.

    HNN - 10/24/2006

    If I were Obama and seriously interested in running for president I would run for governor of Illinois or hope for a veep nomination.

    He would be dimninshed by the cabinet.

    Robert S. McElvaine - 10/24/2006

    In an ideal world, we would have a presidential candidate with extensive experience in domestic, international, and military policy, integrity, sound positions on major issues, ability to connect with and persuade voters, and all other good things. In the world in which we live, we have to settle for the best mix of those qualities that we can find. And among the most important qualities is the ability effectively to use the bully pulpit to push the right causes and policies. That is one of the qualities that makes Barack Obama most attractive as a potential president.

    It is worth remembering that those who urged LBJ into Vietnam were the men with great experience in foreign policy. As the tapes of Johnson's 1964 telephone conversations with Richard Russell and others show, LBJ actually understood the situation in Vietnam and how unlikely success was more clearly than did the experienced advisors he inherited from Kennedy. Johnson went ahead more because he feared the political consequences of "losing Vietnam" than he did because of a lack of foreign policy experience.

    The practical question is this one: Rick, which of the experienced potential Democratic candidates for 2008 would you prefer to Sen. Obama? Almost all of them were wrong on the war, failed to oppose Bush effectively on other issues, and lack Obama's communication skills. Let's not compare Obama with an ideal but nonexistent candidate, but judge how he stacks up against the real world alternatives.

    David M Fahey - 10/24/2006

    Lincoln had even less office-holding experience. Although foreign policy was not central to his presidency, Abe had the sense at the time of the Trent Affair to tell the jingos "one war at a time."

    John Richard Clark - 10/23/2006

    If he is serious about running, Obama should declare himself for the presidency as soon as possible. The longer he remains in the Senate, the longer his odds will be of getting elected.

    Care to guess who was the last incumbent US senator to be elected President? John F. Kennedy, in 1960.

    The Senate has become a dead-end route to the presidency, littered with lots of campaign skeletons: Goldwater, Muskie, McGovern, Anderson, Biden, Gore, Hart, Kerry, Kerrey, McCain, Edwards, etc. The Senate has become a genteel debating society for millionaires. The arcane rules of Congress and the legislative process can give a senator the appearance of being a waffler; frequently, senators will initially vote for a bill in its earliest form and later vote against the bill because of amendments, conference committee editing, etc. It's hard to defend your voting record in a 15-second soundbite.

    Since the 1970s, state governors have proved more successful in demonstrating executive ability, as evidenced by the winning campaigns of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Lincoln is the last refuge of the desperate.

    Unless you are prepared to argue that Obama is another Lincoln, let's leave Lincoln out of this. He is sui generis. Comparing his background with anybody else in defense of inexperience is misguided.

    There was only one Lincoln.

    If you insist on playing the Lincoln card, then we'll have to come to terms with his limited education, too. He had about one year's formal education in all. Does this mean that we should look past the meager educational backgrounds of all other presidential candidates since Lincoln obviously got by with out an extended education?

    I am confident you wouldn't want to make this argument. And if you aren't, then how can you make the other argument?

    Lincoln made more with less than any other politician in our history. But we would be foolish to make a virtue out of what he himself regarded as a deficit. As Oates and Donald and others have noted he was embarrassed about his meager educational experience.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Honestly, I don't get your point.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Hi Ed,

    I'm delighted you asked.

    Wesley Clark, Al Gore: both possess the requisite experience to be president and both share the agenda I'd like to see this country adopt.

    Character isn't all, as some like to argue. Experience and agenda are also important.

    Hillary has little direct experience but has obviously been around the halls of power long enough to know how to get things done. My reservation about her would simply be that she isn't electable--or at least would have a harder time getting elected than Clark and Gore.

    My model, if you want to know, for a modern president, is Eisenhower. While I wish he shared a more progressive agenda on civil rights, and he obviously was mistaken in overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran, he possessed an astonishing range of executive experience. He was able to sidestep many rat traps that succeeding presidents (JFK, LBJ, Nixon come to mind).

    He was battle tested quite literally. And he possessed uncommonly good judgment. As Princeton Political scientist Fred Greenstein has noited, Ike had the good sense to ignore French please for intervention in Vietnam.

    Can l;eaders make a difference? You bet. As Fred notes nin his book The Presidential Difference, all you have to do is compare the different apporoaches to Vietnam taken by Ike and LBJ. Ike decided not to intervene in Vietnam. LBJ plunged ahead.

    Robert Faber - 10/23/2006

    I found Rick Shenkman's article on Barak Obama (Sunday, October 22nd) interesting and thoughtful –– and wrong.

    He claims to disagree with Frank Rich's assertion that "more years in the Senate will hardly improve Obama," then adds, "But surely a few more years would be helpful, wouldn't it? He might at least come to understand how Washington works."  My question is why?  Why and in what way will more time in the Senate help?  What more must he understand about the mechanics of the political scene in order to embrace and promote good social and humanitarian causes or to further divine and advance the needs of internationalism? 

    He and most of us tend to berate traditional political procedures as more debilitating than ennobling for our goals and ideals.  The skills and character we seek are connected to the goals we share, so our concern - Obama's concern - is pushing them through the legislative process, and that's mostly an issue of wise and productive compromise—not a practice closely associated with the politics of Washington, but is a skill he has already very ably demonstrated.  What more time in the Senate would achieve is a collection of political debts that could be more troubling than productive.  As a more practical observation, relatively few senators have later gained the presidency, presumably because their long history of votes and political comments—even if in pursuing generally good causes—tend to gather more dissidents over the years than supporters.  That's probably why governors have a better record of achieving the presidency than do senators.  He derides the idea of  "turn[ing] over the most powerful government in the history of the planet to a person with 2 years experience in the Senate and a few terms as a state senator."  Lincoln's single term in the House inevitably comes to mind.

    He says that what he wants is .......  then he lists accomplishments and status (i.e., corporate executives) that better define our enemies than our friends.  What I want is someone whose tactics I can trust and whose values I respect -- and more time in the Senate does little to enhance them.  And using Bush to make his point-implying that more experience would have made him a better president-really is rather wide of the mark.  (His use of Bush the Father as an example is too far afield to pursue.) He asks WWFFD (What Would the Founding Fathers Do)?  But they didn't live in an era of television and atomic weaponry and ocean-crossing aircraft—and Abramoff operatives and trillion dollar political campaigns, etc.

    What we want is everything.  What we need is a president who has high standards and good values ... and who can win.  That may or may not be Obama, but he's the closest thing we've got on the scene at the moment.

    Ed Schmitt - 10/23/2006

    This discussion is a fascinating one and a continuation of many other interesting articles and blog postings here at HNN. Mr. Shenkman has some good pts. regarding the necessity of experience, but as he and others have noted, it is certainly no guarantee of success. Presidents of course have to wear a variety of hats and all display an array of strengths and liabilities in these roles. Bruce Kuklick argued persuasively in his book The Good Ruler that the successful presidents of the 20th century have succeeded in getting the American people to embrace their vision for the country's moment in history. President Bush (43) showed promise in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 but has clearly failed on that score with the divisions he created as a result of Iraq. While Obama clearly lacks governing experience, he certainly seems to have that capacity for vision that seems essential to good leadership. I wouldn't ask you to endorse anyone for 2008 here and now, but what kind of figure on the presidential horizon do you think fits the bill of experience plus other traits (including electability) necessary?

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Hi Bob,

    Experience is as I indicated in another post on the boards a prerequisite, not a guarantee.

    I want to see a candidate in the fire before he becomes president so I can know what he's made of.

    Is that too much to ask?

    You mention JFK. Does his presidency not prove the importance of experience? He lacked executive experience and nearly landed us in an atomic war. I very much doubt that with Eisenhower in the president's chair we would have gotten anywhere near the point of imminent war that we did with JFK. This is not the place to argue about the Cuban Missile Crisis. But those who think well of JFK's performance during the 13 days must reflect soberly on the events that brought us to that crisis.

    You mention LBJ. Was not his chief problem that he lacked foreign policy experience? He knew the war was headed toward failure but lacked the self-confidence to exercise independent judgment in matters involving war and peace. So he let himself get rolled by the Whiz Kids who egged him on. In domestic affairs he had more experience than any president ever had. It showed. His mastery of the Senate, as Caro puts it, helped him win passage of Medicaid and Medicare. Whatever flaws there were in these and other social programs, he got them through the Congress because he knew Congress and knew which levers to pull and which egos to massage and which toes to step on.

    Charles Lee Geshekter - 10/23/2006

    He was last sighted in Yokahama, attending a political panorama, before jetting back to Alabama.....

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    I agree with you that the WWFFD tests are usually insipid. I have written in derision in several books about politicians who claim the FF were on their side.

    I chose to employ the test merely as a way of suggesting there's an alternative approach to leadership than the one we Americans commonly use in the television era.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Hi Rodney.

    Consider Obama sitting across from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They've fought wars. He's fought ... who exactly?

    I wangt my president to be battle-tested. The battle need not be fought with real guns. But it need be brutal and rough so we know what stuff he is made of.

    You note that he opposes the special interests. But until now he has not had to get in the gutter to fight them. The special inteerests hardly take a one-term US senator seriously.

    Let's see him duke it out with these folks and then get back to me.

    Robert S. McElvaine - 10/23/2006

    As I read Rick's piece, I kept looking for some indication that it was some sort of "Modest Proposal," but he seems to be serious.

    I made my views on Obama known in HNN about a months ago <>;.

    Let me add here a few specific responses to what Rick wrote and to what some of the comments have said:

    As for experience, few presidents have had more than Lyndon Johnson. He had some wonderful accomplishments in civil rights and social policy, but his experience did not prevent him from taking the nation into a disastrous and totally needless war. His successor also had a large amount of experience, yet Nixon continued the senseless war and disgraced the presidency. Both of them were congenital liars who combined to undermine Americans' belief in government.

    JFK had a much longer time in Congress than Obama will have had in 2008, but Kennedy's record in Congress was an undistinguished one. James MacGregor Burns properly referred to JFK's stance on civil rights in the 50s as a "profile in cowardice." Nor were Kennedy's achievements as president nearly as great as many people later imagined them to be.

    Certainly experience is a factor that should be considered in choosing a president, but it is only one of many considerations and should not be decisive by itself.

    Obama was right about the worst mistake in recent American history--the war in Iraq--when men of vast experience such as Cheney and Rumsfeld were dead wrong. How many of the "experienced" possible Democratic nominees were right on this critical issue in 2003?

    Stephen Kislock - 10/23/2006

    Lets remenber G.W. Bush's experience as Governor of Texas, he could not be bothered to read 47 Death Warrents he signed.

    The fact of the matter after six (6) years in office as "The Decider", and Look at the mess "The Decider" has gotten the United States in!

    I do not believe any other President, has Declared himself Above the Law of the Land, but "The Decider" has!

    Gary W. Daily - 10/23/2006

    It’s always wise to avoid the WWFFD: What Would the Founding Fathers Do? test. Too much Scalia for nerves and stomach. However, without asking WWFFD we can re-read “The Founding Fathers: Young Men of the Revolution,” by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick in the _Political Science Quarterly_, Vol. 76, No. 2 (Jun., 1961) and muse about the benefits of placing the relatively young and in leadership roles. Perhaps they can shape alternatives and move power from a perspective that is not entirely stiffened by experience or spoken for in promises made. Obama qualifies. So does John Edwards. H. Clinton, Bayh, Biden? They would have to reborn. Nah. Don’t go there again. And please, no 1994 Republican “Revolution” and Gingrich comparisons. Their ideas were about as fresh as the inside of Ronald Reagan’s cash box, James Bakers’ haircut and Robert Dole’s compromises.

    James C. Williams - 10/23/2006

    So, Obama's been a one-term senator. Hmmm. George a governor. JFK a one-term senator. Hmmm

    Rodney Huff - 10/23/2006

    Hi Rick,

    I disagree. I think Obama knows the ropes in Washington enough to see how lawmakers use their office to enrich themselves and return favors to campaign contributors. He knows how elected representatives circumvent the laws in place to prevent such abuses - or how they totally ignore such laws in a business-as-usual kind of way and use political connections to resist investigation.

    In response to these abuses of power, he's been very active in sponsoring bills that set higher ethical standards for legislators - bills that would establish greater oversight and accountability, especially in the domains of lobbying and earmarking public funds (e.g., The Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission Act, The Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act, and The Clean Up Act).

    He's also authored the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a law that promises to diminish the influence of lobbying on the legislative process, thus reversing the trend towards corpocracy - or rule by a military-industrial complex, i.e., C. Wright Mills's dreaded power elite. (These days we may more rightly call it the Cheney-Halliburton complex.)

    Obama was one of the few lawmakers opposed to the Iraq invasion from the very beginning!

    Having served such a short time as Senator, Obama is not likely to have been bought out by special interests. He evidently sees clearly the corruption and morally questionable practices to which most of his more experienced colleagues have grown accustomed.

    Obama is one the few representatives who walks the talk - as far as "cleaning up" Washington goes. And, although his recent surge in popularity may be character driven, his reform-based politics and willingness to find common ground with Republicans are certainly admirable qualities to look for in a president.

    That is why I humbly disagree and seriously support a presidential run for Obama.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Interesting comparison. I would haave thought the closer parallel was John Edwards, whose debut in American politics was also accompanied by similar sis boom bah.

    Earlier there was John Kennedy. But by the time he ran he had already been in Congress for 14 years.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Hi Jonathan,

    The founding fathers, as Forrest McDonald ably shows in Novus Ordo Seclorum (1985), thought more deeply about the principles of good governance than anybody else in history.

    They were so wise in their leadership that they succeeded in setting up a system that we haven't been able to screw up entirely despite our best efforts.

    Compare the first six presidents with any string of six successors in American history. There's no comparison, is there?

    We are not likely ever to see another string of presidents of the caliber of Washington, Adams and Jefferson for tthe reason that we now have a system dependent on the whims of the vox populi. In the television age their whims are based on fanciful ideas of leadership.

    It is true that government's tasks were simpler in the era of the early Republic. But devising a constitution that could meet their needs and ours was no mean feat. I'd trade all but one or two of the founding fathers at the constitutional convention for our pols.

    What was required of a leader in their day of course was different from what is required today. Today a president has to have a perfect sense of timing so that he can deliver ripostes at the Gridiron dinner with aplomb. Then a president didn't even have to have a head of hair.

    Seriously: we should ask ourselves if the founders couldn't get elected today what's wrong with us not what's wrong with them.

    Lloyd Crump - 10/23/2006

    Obama, oh mama! Is he off to Fujiyama? Or will he take out Osama?

    Ralph E. Luker - 10/23/2006

    Ah, would you mean 1939? Wilkie died in 1944.

    Charles Lee Geshekter - 10/23/2006

    Obama is a decent and smart man.

    Let him author some important and creative legislation to demonstrate some presidential potential. Then let's give him a close look.

    For now, he eerily resembles some academics who teach for a few years, are so-so but likeable at it, then reckon they are "Dean's material" or higher. We all know what those types are like.

    Don't be like them, Obama.

    Andrew J. Grgurich - 10/23/2006

    In 1949, there was a push in the media for Wendell Wilkie. He was a new man with no particular qualifications, but he won the Republican presidential nominiation.

    Now it's the the Democrats turn.

    Wilkie lost, as I recall.

    As a Republican, I hope history repeats itself.

    Martin Eugene Heldt - 10/23/2006

    Good points!

    The only thing I disagree with is this: "It's a sign of our immaturity as a democracy that serious people would even consider this. "

    I'm worried that we're seeing something akin to the public apathy that ended the Roman Republic.

    Living 1 mile from the Illinois border has given me several opportunities to see and vouch for Obama's charisma and qualities as a speaker. But Rick is dead-on right when he says that we need to pick experienced leaders.

    Obama is not there yet.

    HNN - 10/23/2006

    Hi Michael.

    I think of experience as a prerequisite, not a guarantee of success.

    As for Wilson and FDR: Both of them received the blessings of the bosses before running. The bosses endorsed them on the basis of intimate knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. This is the kind of information the public is unlikely to come by in the television age. Instead, the public will make its decision on the basis of superficial perceptions: How he looks and talks and comes across on the small screen.

    By the time Wilson ran for president he had been studying the office for twenty years. By the time FDR ran he had already been through one national campaign (as veep in 1920) and before that had served in Wilson's government as assistant secretary of the navy. His biographers are agreed that he picked up tremendous knowledge of the federal government during his stint in this position. His service provided him with two realms of experience that are critical: He had responsibility for managing a large bureaucracy and was responsible for the lives tens of thousands of people.

    There are always exceptions, of course, to any general guidelines. Lincoln is such an exception. But should we in the nuclear age be making the gamble that Obama is another Lincoln?

    They both hail from Illinois. But ...

    Jonathan Dresner - 10/22/2006

    Most of the founding fathers wouldn't be considered "qualified" today. They had very little government experience; more like lawyer-businessmen, with a little war heroism for good measure. Lots of big ideas, but that's what third-party candidates are for.... The US government they ran was probably less complex than a large modern urban area.

    The presidency today is much more of a bureaucratic leadership position; the specific talents of the person in charge are supplemented at many levels by -- if they're chosen competently -- aides, cabinet secretaries, all sorts of actual experts. Clinton wasn't "qualified" but he was a classic technocrat: curious, involved, drawing on real expertise by people who knew their jobs.

    Michael Kazin - 10/22/2006

    How can the party think about nominating for president this inexperienced politician from Illinois? What has he ever done to show he'd know how to govern our conflict-ridden nation? He's served but one, undistinguished term in Congress, lost two races for the Senate and is fond of homely metaphors and wisecracks? Some day Abe Lincoln might be presidential material but not now, in 1860...

    Mike A Mainello - 10/22/2006

    I was just speaking with my wife about this. The man has no experience at all. If the dems want to put up a good candidate, they need to look past someone that has only been a senator to someone that has experience making real decisions.

    Good article!

    Michael Kazin - 10/22/2006

    Rick assumes that "experience" makes one a better president. FDR had been a governor for less than four years before being elected president -- and Wilson had been a governor for less than two. Yet historians rate them as among the most important chief execs in our history.

    I'll take Obama's short tenure in the Senate and long tenure in a variety of other settings -- from the streets of South Chicago to the State Senate -- over the "experience" of someone like Biden or Bayh or even Hillary Clinton who have kept busy positioning themselves for the race.

    And the founding fathers weren't even in favor of universal suffrage or abolishing slavery-- so I'm not going to ask their shades for political advice.

    Michael Kazin