Man Without Qualities

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Irrational Infatuation

At points in the 2000 campaign the commonest Democrat and liberal media mantra was arguably that George W. Bush was simply not qualified or experienced enough to be President. Being governor of one of the largest States and a reasonably successful businessman just didn't cut it, or so we were told - and told - and told. Of course, that was mostly before Mr. Bush's actual rather stunningly successful performance as President and head of the Republican Party. But certain tattered remains of that crowd (Maureen Dowd being among the remains) still hang on, but even Frank Rich has acknowledged that Mr. Bush may be some kind of genius. ("Democrats have to face the fact that he is at the very least an idiot savant -- and just possibly a genius.")

But things seem to be quite different when the media considers John Edwards of North Carolina. He is the freshman senator who won his first (and only) race for office only in 1998. Before that, he was a trial lawyer, with no business or executive experience whatsoever. But Adam Nagourney had nothing to say about Senator Edward's evident lack of qualifications in the January 3 New York Times item reporting on the Senator's decision to run for President. Nor does Mr. Nagourney even mention in his January 4 Times article surveying the Democratic field that the Senator's qualifications for the office are even an issue that must at least be addressed and overcome. At least David Stout acknowledged the qualifications issue in his January 2 Times article, if only as a kind of lint fleck for the Senator to brush off his suit jacket:

Asked what he would say to people who considered him too inexperienced to try for such a high office, and how he would separate himself from the pack, he said: "I intend to do is be myself. I'm going to talk about where I come from, what my values are, what I intend to do in the White House, present my vision and ideas to the American people, and they'll have to judge what it is they want."

From his account, Mr. Stout did not think it was worth while to point out to the Senator that this constituted "ignoring," not "responding to," people who considered him too inexperienced to try for such a high office."

Experience once meant a lot at the Times. That characteristic being one of the main reasons the Times gave for endorsing Mr. Gore in 2000:

[W]e today firmly endorse Al Gore as the man best equipped for the presidency by virtue of his knowledge of government, his experience at the top levels of federal and diplomatic decision-making, and his devotion to the general welfare.

And on December 2 last year Times reporter Richard Berke seemed to be arguing that Senator Edward's big problem was that voters might make a mistake and see what Mr. Burke knows is really "freshness" and the Senator's "refreshing" status as a "political greenhorn" incorrectly - as inexperience and lack of qualifications - and therefore not be "comforted" enough to vote for him:

He is a fresh face on the political stage — so fresh that he never sought office before his run for the Senate in 1998. After a career making millions seducing jurors as a personal injury lawyer, he knows how to connect with voters and cut through the wonk-talk that pervades the Capitol....

He may be charming and boyishly attractive. He may be — refreshingly — a political greenhorn. Yet does Mr. Edwards carry sufficient gravitas to protect and comfort Americans who fear that a terrorist bomb could explode in their neighborhood? .... Mr. Edwards acknowledged that his biggest challenge is convincing voters — and Democratic donors and interest groups whose support is crucial to winning the nomination — that he can play on the international stage. ....

In the end ... Mr. Gore could not overlook his inexperience. The danger now for Mr. Edwards is that voters will come close to embracing him but then hesitate to make him their man, fretting — as did Mr. Gore — that he is just not ready. ... Mr. Edwards's lack of political seasoning has its virtues. He does not appear to have schemed his entire life to reach the presidency. ...

Nor did the Los Angeles Times find any need to raise the issue of experience or qualifications. No, the LA Times was more concerned with gushing:

The youthful-looking Edwards, who bills himself as "the people's senator," took a similar tack in 1998, running in North Carolina as a political outsider who would represent the little guy. He refused contributions from political action committees, a practice he said Thursday he would follow in his White House bid.

Is this something a seasoned national politician would say? Apparently, not even a pledge to refuse contributions from political action committees was enough to make the LA Times wonder whether Senator Edwards has the kind of experience with running for national office that he needs - or what he might do to compensate. But somebody should be asking just how one finances a Presidential run in 2004 with no PAC money.

It's not just the Times - either one of them - that takes a holiday on "experience" and "qualifications" when it comes to this Senator. On December 19, Al Hunt discussed the Democratic field in his Wall Street Journal column, but lack of qualifications and experience didn't come up with respect to this Senator, who appears only as "John Edwards, the dazzling freshman senator, would have to pass on his first reelection in 2004; a loss could end a bright career." Mr. Hunt was equally dazzled in a 2000 profile of the Senator, regarding Mr. Edwards' lack of experience even then (19 months in office) as a mere invitation to the Republicans to attack had he then been chosen as Mr. Gore's running mate: "It would have been a mistake for Al Gore to pick Mr. Edwards, as only 19 months of public life would have offered an appetizing target for Republicans. But critics are crazy to claim that he's not a political heavy ..."

But matters were very different for Mr. Hunt in 1999 - when he wrote an entire column discussing whether it was bad for the nation that the "underachieving" Mr. Bush (Mr. Hunt then had strict standards, since "underachieving" included being elected to the Governorship of Texas) and the "unnatural" Mr. Gore could achieve high office because of their membership in "dynasties." Mr. Hunt then resorted to some curious apologetics:

Despite our country's irrational infatuation with nonpolitician politicians, that sort of [dynastic] experience is valuable in most endeavors.

And so it goes. Yesterday's cautionary jab at "our country's irrational infatuation with nonpolitician politicians" becomes this years clarion call to pay heed to a "dazzling freshman senator" who should be recognized as "a political heavy."

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