- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The front-runners in both political parties — that is, Hillary Clinton and John McCain — are making “experience” their big talking point. But what kind of “experience”?

Both have been around in politics for decades. But just what did they accomplish — and how did it benefit the country?

Whether in Arkansas or in Washington, Hillary Clinton has spent decades parlaying her husband’s political clout into both money and power. How did that benefit anybody but the Clintons?

Those with short memories should go on the Internet and look up Whitewater, the confidential raw FBI files on hundreds of Republican politicians that somehow — nobody apparently knows how — ended up in the Clinton White House illegally.

Look up the sale of technology to China that can enable them to more accurately hit American cities with nuclear missiles. Then look up the money that found its way to the Clintons through devious channels. Look up Bill Clinton’s firing of every single U.S. attorney, which of course included those investigating him for corruption as governor of Arkansas.

It may be old-fashioned to talk about character and integrity but they can have a lot more to do with the fate of this nation than “experience” at playing political games. More to the point, presidents lacking character and integrity have inflicted lasting damage on the office they held and on the nation.

The country has never trusted presidents as much as it did before Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon betrayed that trust. Like other features and powers of the presidency, trust is not simply a benefit to the particular incumbent. The nation as a whole is stronger when it can trust its president who, after all, has vastly more knowledge available on both domestic and international problems and threats.

It would be hard to find two people less trustworthy than the Clintons or with a longer trail of sleaze and slime.

Sen. John McCain is also touting his “experience,” both in politics and in the military. Mr. McCain’s political record is full of zig-zags summarized in the word “maverick.” That is another way of saying that you don’t know what he will do next, except that it will be in the interests of John McCain.

While you are on the Internet looking up the record of the Clintons, look up Mr. McCain’s record, including the Keating Five, the McCain-Feingold bill, and the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill.

Mr. McCain’s trump card is his military experience. Some say his military experience is especially valuable when we are under threat from terrorists. But is it? John McCain’s military service was both honorable and heroic. But let’s not confuse that with experience relevant to being president.

John McCain was a naval aviator, an important and demanding job but not like a George S. Patton or Dwight Eisenhower. A naval aviator does not plan battlefield strategy, much less global military strategy, which a president must oversee, with the help of experienced generals and admirals. Franklin D. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy in World War I. But he depended on Gen. George C. Marshall for military strategy in World War II.

Give Mr. McCain credit where it is due: He supported the “surge” in Iraq, which rescued a deteriorating situation. But so did Mr. Bush, who has never touted his military service and Dick Cheney, who was never in the military.

The most charitable interpretation of Mr. McCain’s constant touting of his military service is that he is simply milking its political advantage. It would be truly dangerous if Mr. McCain really considers himself a military expert, who can therefore as president ignore the advice of real military experts.

A man like Mr. McCain, with a history of being headstrong and shooting from the hip, is the last thing we need as president, in an age of complex global threats, including terrorists who may get nuclear weapons within the next few years.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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