- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The post-primary fog of the 2008 presidential race has begun to clear, leaving Barack Obama and John McCain as their parties’ respective front-runners.

Although neither candidate is apt to readily admit it, they do have something in common — in the years prior to announcing their candidacy, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain each publicly said they had no intention of appearing on the 2008 ticket. What’s changed? Should either candidate’s reservations influence our vote?

Rewind to February 2001. After Mr. McCain’s unsuccessful primary race against now-President George W. Bush, aides to the Arizona senator told reporters he had not ruled out another attempt at running against Mr. Bush in 2004. But, they stressed, he would not run in 2008, and age was often cited as the reason. Then there were rumblings that Mr. McCain would disaffiliate himself from the Republican Party and make a third-party challenge to Mr. Bush in 2004.

Meanwhile, there was Mr. Obama. Amid overwhelming enthusiasm from his supporters about a presidential bid in 2008, Mr. Obama remained adamant that he, too, would not be immune to criticism stemming from his age — in this case his youth — with the corresponding implications about experience.

On Nov. 8, 2004, the newly elected senator told reporters, “I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job and I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket, I would essentially have to start now before having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that, but I’m not one of those people.”

Mr. Obama also told the Chicago Tribune that same month that the possibility of his embarking on a presidential bid was a “silly question.” As he said then: “I was elected yesterday. I have never set foot in the U.S. Senate. I have never worked in Washington, and the notion that somehow I am going to start running for higher office, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Fast forward to 2008 and the change is dizzying. Mr. McCain is now being touted as the “comeback kid” despite concerns over his age. Recent criticism by retired Gen. Wesley Clark has forced the public to examine his experience. Meanwhile, the message of “change” embraced by Mr. Obama has been criticized as the standby rhetoric of the “politics of old.”

Ultimately, both candidates must embrace their age and their past in order for the public to truly consider them as credible candidates and trustworthy human beings. They themselves must no longer see their respective ages as potential handicaps, but, rather, as merely personal attributes. Accordingly, Mr. McCain should concretely delineate how his experience in Washington and on the battlefield will affect his policy, while Mr. Obama must make clear definitions of the change he proposes and explain how less time and experience in Washington has really put him outside the mainstream of politics as usual.

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