Something’s been niggling at the periphery of my mind as I listen to John McCain constantly repeating the refrain “I’ve been tested; my opponent has not.” Of course the implication is that McCain is Commander-in-Chief ready, while Obama has too steep a learning curve. McCain’s tests include his confinement in the Hanoi Hilton, where he was a Vietnamese prisoner of war. That certainly is a test of a person’s mettle. I’m not denying that his survival was an act of pure courage and strength.
But what of more recent tests? The tried and true tests of running a grueling and exhausting presidential campaign. The length and insanity of the electoral process also tests a candidate: tests their judgment, temperament, intelligence, executive skills and coalition building skills. How they conduct their campaigns tells us how a President John McCain or a President Barack Obama might handle whatever crisis (international or domestic) that may be thrown at him in the first several months of his presidency. So, let’s take a look at the candidates.
First, Senator John McCain. Regarding judgment, one need only look as far as his pick for VP. Even Republicans are disgusted with that glaring example of poor judgment. Just this morning, three days before election day, two former Republican EPA chiefs, Russell Train and William Ruckelshaus — lifelong Republicans — endorsed Barack Obama. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) also this morning was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun as saying that Palin is unqualified to be Vice President. He joins a long, long line of mainstream Republicans in doing so. Note that they never seem to mitigate the harshness of their decrees by claiming that Obama is equally (or more) unqualified. It’s even more interesting, and perhaps significant to note that Ensign is from Nevada, a red state in serious danger of turning blue.
As far as McCain’s long held banner that he’s a maverick, that he’s willing to “stand up” to his own party, again one need only look at the choice of Palin, the darling of the Republican base. From many reports, McCain actually preferred Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lieberman’s selection would have certainly shown McCain to be a maverick, willing to do what he believes, not what the party faithful want.
McCain’s vice-presidential decision making combined with his steady movement towards the ultra-conservative party platform paint McCain as anything but a maverick. What makes anyone believe that once elected, we will see again the McCain of old: the McCain of “McCain-Feingold,” of the “straight-talk express.” As Joe Biden said, that John McCain would have a hard time voting for McCain 2008. McCain a maverick? Right. Not in 2008.
Some thoughtful Republicans truly believe that it’s not really the “real” McCain out there on the stump. That guy talking about the Progressive Income Tax as some weirdo socialist ploy is just a front to keep the "base" in line. They misguidedly believe that as soon as he’s elected President we’ll be re-introduced to Maverick McCain. At best, that paints McCain as an opportunist: the McCain of 2000 has sold his soul – and cheaply, too. And it has to leave us wondering who would be in control of President McCain? It sure as Hell won't be a bunch of mavericks, ready to tear down the Republican establishment.
OK, so now let’s take a quick look at Obama. McCain claims that he’s untested, unqualified. I offer that Obama has actually been tested. All his life. Like McCain, but in an entirely different scenario, Obama, too, has had to survive in poor conditions. Now I’m not equating being a POW with being a poor black kid, raised by his grandmother. But the life Obama was able to make for himself, pulling himself up by the proverbial bootstraps to the highest levels of education and into the halls of the Senate—and on the brink of (perhaps) being elected as the nation’s first African-American President is a uniquely American story. And it didn’t come easily. Obama struggled, as did his family to make it possible. Abandoned by his father and raised by his single mother and his grandmother, Obama might have turned bitter, cynical and angry. But like McCain, Obama refused to let circumstance dictate his final outcome. Perhaps Obama may not have been held in a prison camp (something that, thank God, few have had to endure) but his struggles were not insignificant. This life of adversity helped to shape the man — in a positive way.
As far as presidential readiness and executive experience, one need only examine Obama’s campaign. By all accounts, he has run an incredibly tight ship; corporate CEOs would envy the organizational skills possessed by Obama and his campaign staff. McCain’s campaign has been messy and disorganized in many ways. People off-message and talking at cross purposes. Sometimes even chaotic (as in the days before the first Presidential debate).
Compare and contrast the two candidates? Which one would you trust to keep a cool head in a crisis? Which one would you trust to make reasoned decisions, fueled not by impulsiveness and anger, but by facts, advice, consent and consensus? Personally, I find that there’s no contest. None at all. McCain’s playing Checkers (or maybe Backgammon) while Obama plays offensive Chess. And like a grandmaster.
Will the new president be tested in the first six months? Undoubtedly. But the statement by McCain in the last few days by McCain, on the stump and in his advertising that “because I’ve already been tested” no one would dare try is both naïve and foolhardy. It sounds like a dare. Suspiciously like the one uttered by President Bush several years ago: “Bring ‘em on.” And frankly, that scares me more than Sarah Palin.