- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Franklin D. Roosevelt was derided as a pleasant lightweight from upstate New York. Jimmy Carter was merely a peanut farmer from Georgia and Ronald Reagan a Hollywood actor an "amiable dunce" in the words of one Democratic elder who was sure to lose his way in Washington and the world.
When governors or other Washington neophytes make a play for the presidency, they're invariably hit by the refrain George W. Bush is hearing now: They don't have the experience; therefore, they are not ready for prime time.
Al Gore, a Harvard graduate who flunked out of divinity school and withdrew from law school, has made this his latest line of attack on his Republican presidential rival, a graduate of Yale with a postgraduate business degree from Harvard who did not enter public service until he was pushing 50.
"He's not ready to be president," Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democratic running mate, says of Mr. Bush.
The vice president is traveling in the homestretch of the campaign with Hollywood actors, rock musicians and television stars often themselves dismissed as "airheads" who have mounted the refrain that the governor is too dumb to be president.
The refrain is an echo of campaigns past. Before the age of polls, columnist Walter Lippmann, in advance of the 1932 Democratic convention, wrote of FDR: "He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president."
When FDR died and his obscure vice president, Harry S. Truman, became president he quickly became the butt of jokes, scorned as "a little man with a tiny brain." But Mr. Truman, who cheerfully agreed that he had little experience, nevertheless presided skillfully over the conclusion of World War II and has since become one of the most highly regarded American presidents.
When it comes to experience, those who have it flaunt it and more often than not attack the opposition for being wet behind the ears.
Mr. Bush has heard it all before from his father. President Bush tried to make Bill Clinton's inexperience an issue in the 1992 campaign; indeed, he had done the same thing 12 years earlier when he was battling Mr. Reagan for the Republican nomination.
Mr. Clinton fought back much the way Mr. Bush's son, the Texas governor, is doing now.
"I believe experience counts, but it's not everything," Mr. Clinton said in the '92 campaign. "Values, judgment and the record that I have amassed in my state should count for something." He went on to rattle off his accomplishments as the governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush has retooled the script to cover Texas.
Usually, exploiting an opponent's inexperience has produced little gain, says Bruce Cain, director of governmental studies at the University of California in Berkeley. "I'll be surprised if this turns things around by itself."
Mr. Bush, he says, appears to be doing what former California Gov. Reagan did in running for the White House setting low expectations about his policy acumen and then exceeding them.
Mr. Gore, a two-term vice president, senator and representative during 23 years in public service, is consistently seen as having the best experience for the job of president, beating Mr. Bush by a 2-1 margin in surveys on that question this fall.
But while the polls suggest that experience is important to Americans, lack of it is not held seriously against those who don't have it.
In a Pew-Newsweek survey, half of the respondents said experience was important but not necessary; 31 percent considered it vital.
In 1976, President Ford tried to persuade Americans that they should not entrust foreign policy to Jimmy Carter, a man "whose name … they didn't know a year and a half ago." Four years later, Mr. Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale, tried the same tack against Mr. Reagan, citing his lack of foreign affairs experience and knowledge.
Mr. Clinton began his presidency with a series of stunning setbacks trying to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military, making a disastrous attempt to reorganize the medical industry that he now blames largely on his inexperience.
"We didn't know enough about how the system worked," he recently told the New Yorker magazine. Some of his aides and advisers blame a chaotic management style, not inexperience. Says the president: "I was trying to get as much done as quickly as I could and also trying to learn the job."

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