Blogs > HNN > Tom Vilsack, R.I.P.

Feb 23, 2007 2:23 pm

Tom Vilsack, R.I.P.

I was thrilled to read that Tom Vilsack has dropped out of the race for president. Now I won't have to rewrite the chapter in my new book in which I poke fun at his attempt to run entirely on his ... appealing story! (He's an orphan who raised himself up by his bootstraps and became rich and successful.) If his lackluster campaign had actually taken off it would have ruined my entire argument.

Thanks Tom!

I can use the time anyway to rework some other parts of the book.

PS: If you don't know who Tom Vilsack is, don't worry about it.

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HNN - 2/28/2007

Eisenhgower was a man of his age and it seems to me unfair to criticize him for thinking like a man of his time rather than ours. At the time it seemed a fair bargain to use covert forces to topple communist governments or governments that leaned communist or were so weak as to make a communist coup possible rather than to face the possibility of more Chinas. In his shoes I might well have chosen to take the same course. Of course, he was mistaken in thinking that Mossadegh was a communist or that Iran was better off with the shah than Mossadegh. But his instinct was to avoid a major military confrontation by using covert forces and I think that was sound given the facts as he understood them at the time. Were a president to take similar action today knowing all that we know now about covert operations, blowback and all the rest, that would plainly be stupid.

As for Ike's limited sensitivity to civil rights issues: he was born in the 19th century. And though he came from Kansas he had a lot of friends in Georgia and no friends in the civil rights movement. He obviously misunderstood this issue completely.

An experienced person will make mistakes, of course. But inexperienced people will rather make more mistakes. This just seems axiomatic to me.

Experience should be sin que non. The first criterion in choosing a president should be experience. From the pool of experienced people you can think choose other qualities and above all somebody who shares your worldview.

As a historian I believe there's value in studying the past to gain insights about power: how it's used and abused and how people get things done. Isn't experience another name for history? The person with experience has schooled himself in the uses of power just as the historian does.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/26/2007

That's a fair reply. And it helps me to better understand some of your other posts on this matter.

Your invoking of Eisenhower is interesting. He had a great deal of personal experience in international politics and in management, but he had held no elective offices. He had never had to maneuver legislation through a representative body.

And while in his military career, his respect for American democracy was often in evidence, his penchant to support covert actions led to arguably two of our greatest foreign policy mistakes: our interventions in Iran and Guatemala.

His military background--and the ingrained bigotry that was of the Army officer corps in his time--may have also influenced his biggest domestic policy mistake: his lack of support for Brown v. Board and the Civil rights movement.

In short, the depth of the experience that you look for does matter, but it does not guarantee wisdom.

HNN - 2/26/2007

Hi Oscar,

At this point I am not trying to push any particular candidate. I am trying to suggest that we go back to first principles and decide what we want in a president.

Yours is the natural question to ask but just now I want to focus on principles we should use to guide our selection rather than the selection itself.

I am not trying to be evasive. But I think that academics and scholars and historians should play a more educational role in the process and not get caught up in the media horse race game.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/26/2007


Based on your criteria, which of the announced or probable candidates of either party could you support?

HNN - 2/26/2007


Vilsack for president?


5 years as governor of a small state is not sufficient to run this country.

I want an Eisenhower. Somebody who has held real power in his hands, someone who has had to make hard decisions involving the lives of thousands, someone who is battle tested so we know they can take the pressure.

Comparing Vilsack to Clinton is unfair to Clinton. Clinton served as a governor for over a decade before running for presient in 1992.

He had no experience in foreign affairs though he had 1. gone to Geogretown and studied foreign policy and 2. worked in a minor role for Sen. Fulbright.

Frankly, given his lack of foreign policy experience we never should have nominated him for president either.

We need to stop the foolishness of entrusting the most powerful government in the world to people who wouldn't win approval from the Senate as either secretary of state or secretary of defense (one or the other).

If you can't convincingly demonstrate that a candidate has the credentials to serve in one or the other post then how on earth can you think they are qualified for president?

Tim Lacy - 2/24/2007

It's ~way~ too early to take the presidential race seriously, so your post is right on the mark: we need to make fun in order to pay attention. And I had no idea who Tom Vilsack was until reading your post. - TL

Jonathan Dresner - 2/23/2007

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you: Vilsack was a better-than-decent Governor in a state with a seriously troubled economy, a Clinton-esque moderate. He had a great deal to run on, but the field is pretty crowded with Clinton-esque moderates, and you know as well as I do that "the story" is a powerful component of the general election campaign.

Democrats could have -- and probably will -- do worse.