Experience Is Vastly Overrated

The Republicans say that Sen. John Edwards, the running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, has no experience in foreign policy. Well, experience in politicians is not unlike experienced whores in a brothel. It’s not necessarily a desirable trait.

And, except for those with Alzheimer’s disease, people will recall that George Bush not only had no experience (or knowledge, for that matter) in foreign affairs, but no national experience at all. He had visited his daddy in the White House, but he had never served in any federal office.

Our greatest president, George Washington, likewise had no foreign-policy experience. He had been a militia leader, a legislator, a surveyor, a farmer and a soldier, but he had never set foot outside the continental United States.

Experience is vastly overrated. Of course, if you are going to serve in the legislative branch, then you need to know the rules for filing bills and other such mechanical tasks. But those are easily learned. Simply being there a long time doesn’t make you a better legislator. It is, in fact, likely to corrupt — or, at the very least, weaken one’s ties to the folks back home.

Actually, it is literally true that anybody could be president. Things that are required are intelligence, common sense, good judgment, integrity and communication skills. No experience necessary. It is not molecular physics. It’s not baseball. Anybody with sense enough to assemble a competent staff can have all the factual information needed for decisions.

As for foreign affairs — another vastly overrated field — all that a president needs in that regard is the ability to judge character and, when desirable, to establish good personal ties with foreign leaders. Most of our presidents, in fact, have taken office without any experience in foreign affairs. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan are recent examples. Secretaries of state do the bulk of the work in foreign affairs.

Edwards certainly has the intelligence and communication skills. You don’t go from where he started to where he is without intelligence, common sense, communication skills and self-discipline.

Of course, the funny part about the Republican attack on Edwards’ lack of experience is that it is precisely in the area of foreign affairs that the Bush administration has fouled up so royally. If Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz are examples of what experience can produce, then the less experience the better, I say.

There are two other traits that are desirable in a president: intellectual curiosity and an interest in history. Unfortunately for the Republican spinners, these are two traits definitely lacking in George Bush. He’s the only president in my lifetime who has liked to boast about how little he reads. He needn’t boast. It’s quite evident. I don’t say he is dumb, but he is without a doubt the most willfully ignorant man who has occupied the White House in recent years. The things he is interested in are very few.

I could say that, hopefully, before the elections, the personal attacks will stop and we’ll get a sensible debate on real issues. I seriously doubt this will happen, as the Bush administration has an attack-dog mentality, and I don’t think it can change. Besides, if the administration runs on its record, it is doomed.

My own feeling is that the election will not be as close as it now seems. I expect that John Kerry will demolish Bush in the debates, and Edwards will do the same to Cheney. Last time, Cheney and Joe Lieberman, both neoconservatives, had a love-in instead of a debate. Bush had the advantage of poor Al Gore’s erratic personality changes. Neither Bush nor Cheney will be so lucky this time.

Kerry is said to be an excellent debater, and we know Edwards has made a fine living matching wits with the best brains corporate America could buy.

Naturally, my prognostication skills would never win me a job in Las Vegas. In these days of 24/7 television, one gaffe can wreck a campaign. Just ask Howard Dean. But if I had to bet, at this point I’d put money on Kerry by a comfortable margin.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.