Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has gone on the offensive on the issue of his inexperience, and I’ll happily walk with him at least halfway down that path. It’s not inexperience that’s his problem so much as naïveté and seeming immaturity.
You don’t need to have put in decades in the Senate, or to have served as a governor or as mayor of a major city, after all, to know better than to say, "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance involving civilians."
Maybe every moral fiber in your body tells you that using nuclear weapons to fight terrorism in Afghanistan or Pakistan would be wrong, which is the specific situation he had been asked about.
But the last thing you want as a White House occupant is to have your enemies know that’s where you have ruled out nuclear retaliation for the very simple reason that they might therefore be more inclined to inflict grave harm on your people. Common sophistication tells you as much, and he summoned up enough of it to quickly add, "Let me scratch that … That’s not on the table."
The recovery was encouraging, but the words were heard and have circulated abroad. By way of defending himself, Obama has said he doesn’t want to be experienced if that means being "hesitant about telling the truth to the American people about the challenges that we face," which is nice, but let’s don’t applaud too loudly. Our leaders should not lie, but they are not obliged to share everything that goes on in their heart of hearts, either, and there’s a difference between "truth" and gush.
No one should doubt that Obama is very, very bright, butthat’s not the same as wisdom, and we received another lesson in that fact when he said that if genocide was the criterion by which the United States decided to employ force, "you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now ... We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea."
He was responding to whether the United States had an obligation to stay in Iraq to prevent genocide, and Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto skillfully showed what was wrong with his words:
"By his logic, if America lacks the capacity to intervene everywhere there is ethnic killing, it has no obligation to intervene anywhere ... Further, he elides the distinction between an act of omission (refraining from intervention Congo and Darfur) and an act of commission (withdrawing from Iraq). The implication is that although the U.S. has had a military presence in Iraq since 1991, the fate of Iraqis is not America’s problem."
The examples of something amiss don’t end here — the man can be pointedly disagreeable while talking all the time about being agreeable; his insistence that the United States under Bush has practiced a "social Darwinism" that would let the poor go hang is let’s-pretend "deep thinking" that runs counter to easily available budget and policy facts. While politics as usual might explain some such rhetorical adventures, you sense a problem here that goes beyond that, and beyond mere inexperience.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.