The Establishment candidates in the presidential races are trying to pin the label of inexperience on Sen. Barack Obama. Well, people should stop and think about that charge. Experience per se is not always a virtue.

Would you really prefer an experienced killer? An experienced crook? An experienced con artist? An experienced whore? An experienced grifter? An experienced politician? An experienced liar?

I doubt it. For one thing, you can’t expect a fresh look at old problems from experience. Experience often means that the person has developed fixed opinions and fixed ideas. Experienced people tend to be the kind who "know" the situation long before they hear any evidence. Most of the time, they are the kind of people who don’t want to hear any evidence that contradicts their own ideas. I would even say that choosing a president with a lot of experience is a guarantee of maintaining the status quo, and, as I hope you know, the present status quo stinks.

Don’t read this as an endorsement of Sen. Obama. I was just incensed at the cheap attempt to distort what the man said. He said he would talk to our so-called enemies. Those are exactly the people a president should talk to. The Cold War ended because American presidents talked to Soviet leaders, who were certainly our enemies at the time. There are only two ways to resolve a conflict — by negotiation or by force. I hope none of you is looking forward to a new century of war.

He also said that if we developed definitive information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistan government refused to act, he would. Isn’t that what a normal person would want in a commander in chief? Someone who would act decisively in pursuing America’s goals? He didn’t say he would declare war on Pakistan. He simply said he’d go after our chief enemy, who has eluded the Bush administration for six years now.

Deliberate distortion of an opponent’s statements is a standard tactic among dishonorable politicians. That seems to be the majority of politicians these days. However, the American people deserve the right to choose their candidates based on what they actually say and do and not on the basis of lies and distortions spread abroad by their opponents and their hired truth-twisters.

Secondly, you should realize that today there are no Lone Rangers running for president. They all are surrounded by advisers, and the winner will enter the White House with an entourage. Presidents not only get bombarded with advice, they have at their disposal the world’s largest, if not the most effective, intelligence apparatus.

Thirdly, keep in the mind that the worst members of the Bush administration are the most experienced. That includes Vice President Dick Cheney, who often has had no doubt about things that weren’t so, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who boasted that "we know where the weapons are." Their collective experience amounted to disaster.

Finally, what you want in a president is intelligence, an open mind, energy, curiosity, courage, honesty and sound judgment. None of those is a product of experience. A modern president can collect data up the yazoo. That’s not the problem. The problem is in analyzing the data and deciding what, if anything, to do about a situation.

In these days of entangling alliances and leviathan government, it would be a good idea to ask candidates to tell us not what they will do, but what they will not do. There are many more things a president should not do than there are things he should do.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.