But success as governor often breeds two things: confidence and higher ambition. So if you're like Mr Perry, you run for the presidency (like everyone wants you to do). But if your background thus far has been mostly limited to your home state, you're not ready for the onslaught of impertinent, annoying questions about your policy towards Durkadurkastan. In a panic you start to study. But there are so many damned Stans! And then people want to know whether your tax-policy numbers add up, the bastards. And you're expected to know stuff like how the alternative minimum tax works. And where all of America's troops are. And then the snivelling reporter from the Globe and Mail asks a question to tease out whether you know what the prime minister of Canada's name is—you're sure it's something really ordinary, but is it Stephen Parker or Ben Harper or Michel Carter or what? Then you have to study all your rivals and what they're saying and doing, too. You have to study fast, and you're travelling all the time, and still kissing babies and begging for money over the phone. You eat fried garbage at state fairs and diners, and barely sleep. Now you probably get nervous, then tense; swagger won't turn the dynamic around. A few gaffes and you tense up more. You study harder, but there's just so much stuff to learn! And they they start digging through your past; why oh why didn't you anticipate that story getting out? Nobody told you it was going to be like this!
That's pretty much what I thought watching Perry at the last debate. You could smell the fear coming off him a mile away. He's completely tensed up, like a batter in the middle of a rotten slump who hears a voice in his head saying "You're going to strike out, you loser" as soon as he steps up to the plate, and it makes his swing a mess.
Put aside your feelings about Perry in particular and ask, Is this a good thing? Maybe. On the one hand, it really helps if the president has some base of knowledge about the issues he'll confront when he gets in office. So if a few governors who might make great presidents get tossed aside because of it, so be it. Heck, I happen to think both Al Gore and John Kerry would probably have made good presidents, but they got undone by another requirement of the contemporary presidential campaign, that one not look like one is trying too hard to appear to be a human being. This is the big leagues, and nobody deserves pity for not being able to cut it there.
On the other hand, no matter who the eventual president is, he'll get up to speed pretty quickly once he's in office, no matter what he knew a year before. Unanticipated issues will come up, and it won't be preparation so much as intelligence, wisdom, and judgment that will determine how he'll handle them. Back in 2008, when Republicans were complaining about Barack Obama's lack of experience, I argued that the one person in America with the most experience being president was George W. Bush, and nobody thought he ought to keep running the country.
On the third hand, it's somewhat heartening to see that even in a system as dysfunctional as ours, not knowing what the hell you're talking about does indeed prove to be damaging to your chances of becoming the most powerful human on planet Earth. So that's something.
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