Just an­other race, with a cou­ple of dif­fer­ences

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

The con­ven­tion speeches and party hoopla are over, the nom­i­nees have laid down their po­lit­i­cal mark­ers, and now the race for the pres­i­dency hits full throt­tle.

Amer­i­cans have been do­ing this for more than 225 years, only this time, sev­eral things are quite dif­fer­ent: The Democrats have nom­i­nated the first African-Amer­i­can in U.S. his­tory whose can­di­dacy has been fu­eled prin­ci­pally by his ora­tory and celebrity; and the Repub­li­cans have cho­sen the old­est nom­i­nee in our his­tory, a vig­or­ous 72-year-old war vet­eran, and the GOP’s first fe­male vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The race will come down to the age-old po­lit­i­cal ques­tion: Whom do you trust to as­sume the pow­ers of the pres­i­dency and pro­tect our coun­try from harm? Only this time, that ques­tion is far more omi­nous be­cause of the candidates’ glar­ing gap in po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

John McCain of Ari­zona is a vet­eran House and Se­nate law­maker who has led de­bates on the most im­por­tant na­tional-se­cu­rity and for­eign-pol­icy is­sues of our time and has a rep­u­ta­tion for seek­ing bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise in piv­otal do­mes­tic-pol­icy de­bates. Barack Obama is a for­mer neigh­bor­hood or­ga­nizer brought up in the caul­dron of lib­eral, in­ner-city Chicago pol­i­tics. Un­til a few years ago, he was an Illi­nois state se­na­tor known only for vot­ing “present” when faced with tough de­ci­sions.

Not to men­tion, Mr. Obama won his Se­nate seat in an elec­tion that had no se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion and as a fresh­man se­na­tor has led no sub­stan­tive leg­isla­tive causes and hasn’t en­gi­neered any com­pro­mises be­tween war­ring fac­tions — though he main­tains he will do so if elected. For most of the last three years and eight months, he has not been in the Se­nate, in­stead trav­el­ing the coun­try to pro­mote his best­selling bi­ogra­phies.

Over the last few weeks, much of the elec­tion cov­er­age has fo­cused on vice-pres­i­den­tial selections. Mr. Obama chose Sen. Joseph Bi­den of Delaware, a twice-failed pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who has been in the Se­nate for­ever with lit­tle ac­com- plish­ment to speak of. His prin­ci­pal pro­posal in de­bates over Iraq was to di­vide up the coun­try into three parts, pre­dict­ing Kurds, Shia and Sunni Mus­lims could never work to­gether. Iraq, he in­sisted, would plunge into chaos. He was wrong on both counts, rais­ing trou­bling ques­tions about his judg­ment in a geopo­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

John McCain’s choice, Sarah Palin, is a forth­right, no-non­sense woman, who was for­mer mayor of her home­town and the cur­rent gov­er­nor of Alaska. Mr. McCain, proud of his rep­u­ta­tion as a mav­er­ick, chose her be­cause she is an out­sider with a rep­u­ta­tion for shak­ing things up. Af­ter ve­to­ing ex­ces­sive spending, bal­anc­ing bud­gets, ne­go­ti­at­ing with big-oil com­pa­nies, re­bat­ing tax sur­pluses and cham­pi­oning oil and gas pro­duc­tion in a state that pro­vides us with a lot of both, she has demon­strated ex­ec­u­tive skills and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship at the top. Mr. Obama and Mr. Bi­den have done nei­ther.

But this elec­tion will not be about the vice pres­i­dents, soon to be rel­e­gated to the back pages and bot­toms of net­work news­casts. The fo­cus will turn to the two pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees and their vastly dif­fer­ent agen­das for change. The last sit­ting se­na­tors elected to the high­est of­fice in the land were John F. Kennedy and Lyn­don John­son. Since then, Amer­i­cans have elected ei­ther vice pres­i­dents or gov­er­nors — be­liev­ing in their pre­vi­ous ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and the out­sider per­spec­tive needed to run the coun­try.

The Democrats se­lected two lib­eral es­tab­lish­ment in­sid­ers from a Se­nate that boasts a 14per­cent ap­proval rat­ing. In other words, they are men from a part of gov­ern­ment of­ten seen as part of the prob­lem, not the so­lu­tion. The Repub­li­cans have also picked a pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee from the Se­nate, but this nom­i­nee has com­manded men in time of war and has a unique “out­sider” rep­u­ta­tion for ex­ec­u­tive-style lead­er­ship in roug­hand-tum­ble pol­icy bat­tles.

The out­sider im­age has been a con­sis­tently pow­er­ful force in mod­ern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, and that will be the case this year as well. Let the race be­gin. Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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