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The Thin Man

This column was written by William Kristol.


This week, the least qualified man to receive a major party nomination for the presidency of the United States in modern times will be anointed by his party. He could well win the general election.

Republicans have held the presidency for the last eight years. On five occasions since the FDR-Truman administration, voters have had a chance to change parties after a two-term presidency. Four of those times (1960, 1968, 1976, 2000), they have done so. The fifth occasion was 1988, when Republicans held the White House after Reagan's two terms. But Reagan's approval rating was then close to 60 percent; George W. Bush's is around 30 percent.

What's more, the Democrats now lead the GOP by about 10 points on the generic ballot. Economic growth this election year will be minimal. And a majority of the public are more focused on the economy than foreign policy. In any case, a majority of the public still think the Iraq war was a mistake.

These are the underlying political conditions. As for the candidates, Barack Obama is the beau ideal of a modern contender--and John McCain is not. As for the campaigns, Obama's will outspend and out-organize McCain's. And all the powers of the old media, the old academy, and old Hollywood--all the forces of political correctness and establishment progressivism--have entered into an alliance to try to ensure an Obama victory.

Only two things stand in the way: John McCain and Barack Obama. John McCain is a man of wide experience, demonstrated courage, and strong character. Can one say the same of Barack Obama?

Here is Obama's résumé: an Ivy League law degree, a few years of community organizing, seven years in the Illinois senate, three and a half years as a U.S. senator. Kind of modest. What has he accomplished in any of those jobs? Not much, not much at all.

Has he shown great courage in his political career? Has he shunned the easy path or broken with the conventional liberal pieties of those around him? Has he taken on his own party on a major issue? Nope.

Has he shown exemplary character? He has undoubted skills and abilities. He has always had great potential. But has he followed through on it? Is there a moment in his public life that one looks to and says: Agree or disagree, that was impressive?

His defining moment so far was his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. If one rereads that speech today, one sees more clearly the emptiness beneath the eloquence, the lack of substance behind the sizzle. But one paragraph does stand out:

Our party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. That man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and sacrifice, because they've defined his life. From his heroic service in Vietnam to his years as prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we've seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available. His values and his record affirm what is best in us.

Leave aside whether John Kerry deserved Obama's encomia. Doesn't Obama's praise of Kerry highlight how thin Obama's own claim to leadership is? After all, Obama has done none of the things for which he praises Kerry. Is he ready to be president of the United States? I think a majority of American voters will conclude not.

What's more, they'll realize that the Democratic party will control Congress for the next two years. There's no chance (unfortunately) that a conservative domestic agenda will be much advanced, no matter who's president. So moderates and independents wary of Republican governance or conservative enthusiasms will have little to fear from a McCain presidency. They may conclude they have quite a bit to fear from the team of Obama-Pelosi-Reid governing unchecked.

And we're at war. We're electing a commander in chief. It's not so much that Obama would, like the Democrats of his youth, blame America first. It's that he would wish away the dangers to America--and react too little and too late to threats to ourselves and our allies.

Obama said in 2004, "We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states." I suspect Barack Obama would be a great Little League coach--sensible but also inspiring, balanced and empathetic, able to deal with both crazed parents and immature kids. And I suspect that, on November 4, the American people will decide to allow Barack Obama plenty of time to coach Little League in the next four years by keeping him in the Senate, and entrusting the presidency to a major leaguer, John McCain.
By William Kristol
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