Two years ago, two superstars lit up a dazzled political universe — young, stunning, lissome and bursting with talent — and were propelled ahead of their time into prominence after a minimal time on the national scene.
Two years later, it seems as if this has done them no favors — President Barack Obama is widely seen as “overwhelmed” by his office, and Sarah Palin is meeting resistance establishing her credentials as a possible candidate against rivals with more seasoning.
On Election Day 2008, Obama had been in the Senate for less than four years, and Palin had spent less than three years as governor of Alaska.
The problems they are facing are not age alone. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy were younger (42 and 43, respectively) when they became president, but their records of service were longer and deep. Roosevelt was a state representative, police commissioner, governor of New York and vice president. Kennedy spent 14 years in Congress, eight of them in the Senate, and had been observing diplomacy at the highest levels since he was 19.
By contrast, Obama ran for president after two years in the Senate, and Palin had been a governor only slightly longer when she was plucked out of obscurity. Kennedy had about eight years of obscurity until 1956, when he broke out with his failed run for vice president, and three more after that before becoming
a media superstar.
It turns out that eight or so years in this sort of obscurity is what a good president needs.
It is what President Ronald Reagan had in his two terms as a governor.
Like Kennedy, he had 14 years from his first run to the White House. Like Kennedy, they were spent in obscurity, mildly famous but hardly the object of media frenzies.
No one was scanning their words for inadvertent misstatements, or wholly involved in their glory or failure. Like wine, they matured in the dark over time.
Obama and Palin needed the six years or so of obscurity they were about to embark on before ambition — and John McCain — intervened. Instead, their growth was checked at a critical moment, and, as it seems now, will not be resumed quickly.
They are famous for life. They will always have money. What they can never have back are the years washed out by destructive celebrity. “She’s been microwaved, she needs now to marinate,” somebody once said of Palin.
But the time for slow cooking is gone.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”