Entries from September 2006

Bush Isn’t Planning An “october Surprise”

David Frum September 30th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“It should come as no surprise if the Bush administration undertakes a pre-emptive war against Iran sometime before the November election.” So blogged former U.S. Senator Gary Hart at HuffingtonPost.com on Sept. 23.

No, replied a Democratic congressional candidate on another left-wing Web site four days later, the Bush administration is not plotting to attack Iran. It is plotting to produce a fake capture of bin Laden.

Other Democrats hypothesize that the administration will somehow contrive to lower gasoline prices.

But all Democrats are buzzing with one angry certitude: Karl Rove is planning an “October surprise” to cheat the Democrats out of victory in the November elections.

Democratic partisans buzz with this certainty on the eve of every election. When Osama bin Laden released a videotaped diatribe on the eve of the 2004 vote, Walter Cronkite (Walter Cronkite!) emerged from retirement to tell Larry King that the thing had somehow been engineered by Rove:

“I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.”

For Republicans and conservatives, there is an amazing audacity about these Democratic suspicions. The fact is that the most successful October surprise in any recent U.S. national election was carried off by Democrats, not Republicans.

Early in the summer of 2000, Williams Childs, a Maine judge, issued an order requisitioning any arrest records involving George W. Bush. This was an odd order for him to make. He was a probate judge, so his official activities extended only to wills and testaments. But he got what he was looking for: a document showing Bush had been arrested in 1976 for driving under the influence of alcohol. Childs, a prominent local Democrat, then held the document tight for four months.

Childs released his scoop on Nov. 2, four days before the 2000 vote. Within seconds of the story’s broadcast, a massive anonymous fax campaign delivered the details to every news outlet in the country.

The story hurt Bush badly. A week before election day, most polls showed Bush narrowly ahead of Gore. On Nov. 6, he finished 500,000 votes behind.

The trick so nearly worked in 2000 that some Democrats were understandably tempted to try again in 2004.

This time, the source of the story was a Texas Democrat, Bill Burkett. He provided CBS News with documents purporting to show that Bush had received special favours during his service in the Texas Air National Guard. This time, the documents were almost immediately exposed as forgeries. The backlash destroyed the careers of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes of CBS–and by the way silenced any lingering questions about Bush’s Guard duty.

The Burkett/Mapes story reveals the dangers of attempting an “October surprise.” So much can go wrong! And how much more can go wrong with a war or a bombing campaign? Planes can be shot down, pilots lost, targets missed, civilians killed. To time a war to coincide with an election would not only be a desperately cynical act; it would also be recklessly risky.

In actual fact, Rove has run his campaigns for George W. Bush on the most simple and obvious principles. Rove thinks that the number of “swing” voters–voters who truly might vote for either party–has been shrinking for decades and now numbers only about 9% of the electorate. He likewise thinks that Republicans win not by swaying undecideds, but by exciting their own large base. And so he runs campaigns that rely not on clever gimmicks but on strong, clear conservative messages. The only surprise about a Rove campaign is how few surprises they contain.

Democrats should know this strategy. After all, they have been on its receiving end for three elections in a row: 2000, 2002 and 2004. And yet they persist in believing that next time Rove will junk the methods of a lifetime and resort to sneaky maneuvers and complicated stratagems. That so many Democrats have come to believe that dirty tricks win elections tells us very little about elections. But it reveals something important–and ugly–about those Democrats themselves.

Containment?

David Frum September 23rd, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Do you think that the U.S. is on the verge of striking the Iranian nuclear program? Think again. President Bush’s speech to the United Nations this week did not even refer to Iranian defiance of the Security Council’s Aug. 31 deadline for ceasing and desisting from uranium enrichment. Instead the President praised Iranian culture and offered friendship to the Iranian people–following a new strategy that tacitly accepts an Iranian nuclear bomb as all but inevitable.

What is this new strategy?

David Ignatius, a journalist who often reflects the thinking of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, described it thus in a January column in the Washington Post: “The administration hopes [the European allies, Russia and China] will work with Washington to change Iranian behaviour on issues such as terrorism and regional stability. Officials don’t like the Cold War term ‘containment,’ believing that it connotes a static policy, but the word suggests the strategic commitment they want on Iran.”

Three years of negotiations with Iran have definitively failed. The U.S. and its allies offered Iran trade benefits, weapons technology, even civilian nuclear reactors. No sale. The Iranians want a nuclear bomb more than they want anything the West can offer them.

Rice’s big idea is based on the experience of the Cold War, when the U.S. isolated, deterred and challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was surely a more dangerous adversary than Iran. If containment worked then, why not now?

But the advocates of today’s neo-containment are deluding themselves. They cannot hope to isolate Iran. No American ally will sign on to such a plan. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that total trade between Iran on the one hand and France, Germany, Russia and China on the other has increased from $18-billion to $22-billion in the past year. Germany is Iran’s number one supplier; France, number two. President Jacques Chirac only last week urged that the Security Council “renounce” all economic sanctions against Iran.

Deter Iran? After the Khobar Towers terror attack of 1996, in which Iran killed 17 U.S. service personnel, the Clinton administration threatened war if Iran ever did such a thing again. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration safeguarded Kuwaiti oil tankers against Iranian missiles by reflagging them as U.S. vessels. But America will not find it so easy to defend its friends against an Iran that can threaten nuclear retaliation against the U.S. The problem is not to deter Iran; it is to prevent Iran from using its nuclear weapons to deter the U.S. from protecting its friends.

As for challenging the legitimacy of the mullahs’ rule, that is not likely to happen either. Over the past few weeks, former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami has been honoured with invitations to deliver a lecture at Harvard and a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington. Iran’s current President, the fanatically anti-Semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has addressed the Council on Foreign Relations and was invited to lecture at Columbia. (That last invitation was ultimately withdrawn.) The Iranians are honoured participants in the “dialogue of civilizations” organized by the United Nations.

More ominously, many of those who advocate a “containment” policy–such as former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski–go on to argue that U.S. should offer Iran “security guarantees”: a promise that the U.S. will not support military action against Iran or aid those who seek to topple the Iranian regime.

Now this is the very opposite of a containment policy. Containment as it was understood during the Cold War recognized the dangerous nature of the Soviet regime–a danger (in the words of George Kennan, the man who gave containment its name) which “cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”

Containment’s goal, Kennan continued, was not “permanent happy coexistence,” but rather “to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.” Substitute “Iranian” and “the mullahs” for Soviet and the Kremlin, and you might have the beginning of a workable alternative policy toward Iran.

But that is not the policy toward which the U.S. is now being directed. Unless containment seeks to promote the breakup of the Iranian regime, it is not containment at all. It is simply…accommodation.

Iran is going nuclear. Sanctions will not be imposed. The U.S. hesitates to strike. And the Bush administration’s new big idea will not work. Brace yourselves.

A Grim Landscape For Republicans

David Frum September 16th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

More of the same? Or something new?

It’s the eternal election question–and one that bodes ill for U.S. congressional Republicans in 2006. Measured just about every way you can measure, U.S. voters are distressed and hankering for change.

Gallup’s latest poll (conducted Sept. 7-10) found that 67% of Americans described themselves as generally dissatisfied with conditions in the country.

President Bush’s approval numbers continue to slump below 40%. No president in the history of polling has ever polled this badly, this long.

Congress fares even worse. Only 29% approve of Congress’ performance.

You’d think, to look at these numbers and many more like them, that the U.S. must be struggling with some terrible economic malaise.

But in fact, the U.S. economy continues to grow strongly, faster than 3% a year. Want a job? Take your pick–unemployment bumps along at 4%. More Americans own their own homes than ever before in history. Retail sales remain brisk. New unemployment insurance claims dropped last month.

The typical American family enjoys substantial prosperity. The median family–the family smack in the middle of the income distribution–earns US $66,000 per year. The median married family earns US $70,000. The median two-income family earns US $80,000.

So what’s the complaint?

Four problems head the list.

First, although family incomes are high, they are not rising very rapidly. That median family does not make more today than it did in 2000. The most important culprit is health costs.

Employers are paying more for labour; indeed average hourly compensation costs have soared more than 25% since 2000. But the cost of employer-provided health care has risen even faster. So almost every extra penny paid out by employers has disappeared down the health care maw.

And it gets worse. Employers expect employees to contribute directly to the cost of their health insurance, usually about one-fifth of the total. But between 2000 and 2005, the average cost of a family policy jumped almost $5,000, from $6000 to nearly $11,000. The typical employee contribution jumped too, by about $1000. So not only did our median family lose most of its expected raise to health care inflation, but it also had to dig into its pockets to pay $1,000 more in direct costs.

Next, energy prices. Energy prices soared between 2004 and 2005. Not just gasoline, but natural gas, electricity, the whole utility bill. Today, almost one dollar in 10 in the typical family’s budget goes to fuel its cars and heat and cool its home.

Third is a broader problem of insecurity. Fears of terrorism weigh heavily on Americans. An Ipsos-AP poll conducted last week found that 43% think another terrorist attack likely; almost half say that the 9/11 attacks continue to affect the way they live. The evening news tells them of carnage and turmoil in Iraq and threats from Iran. The future seems to offer only more wars, more violence and someday more taxes to pay for it all.

Fourth and last: As is their way during Republican administrations, the mass media have assiduously notified Americans that some people have made more money than others in recent years. No question, the gap between the top 5% or 1% and everybody else has widened since 2000. It is not, however, widening any faster than it did in the 1990s. But it gets publicity!

And this publicity makes itself felt in public opinion. The University of Michigan’s famous survey of consumer confidence finds that the gap between the confidence of the most affluent and and that of the least affluent consumers now stretches wider than at any time in the past three decades. One-quarter of Americans surveyed now say they regard increasing inequality as a major social problem.

There is good news for Republicans in 2006. Gasoline prices have dropped since Labour Day, and they seem poised to continue their decline. Republican voters seem more disciplined and determined than Democrats. (One poll finds that more Republicans than Democrats know the name of the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.) The most at-risk Republican senator, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, has run an especially brilliant campaign.

Nor have Democrats managed, as some wished to do, to create a national message like the Republican Contract with America of 1994. Democrats oppose high gas prices and expensive health insurance. They condemn terrorists almost as fiercely as they despise the top 1%. But as for what they would actually do in power, they say little or nothing, except that they would launch lots and lots of investigations of alleged Republican wrongdoing.

Despite this vacant Democratic agenda, the landscape looks grim for Republicans, especially in the House. Already, Democrats are looking forward eagerly to the perquisites of power. If only they showed signs of equally readiness to shoulder its responsibilities.

The End Of The Affair

David Frum September 12th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The Valerie Plame affair is one of those mysteries that lose most of their interest as soon as you learn the solution.

For three years, investigators have hunted for the leaker who disclosed Ms. Plame’s name to the Washington press corps. In “Hubris,” their minutely detailed study of the affair, David Corn and Michael Isikoff reveal the answer: It was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage–a fact known almost all along to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. With the leaker established, the rest of the mystery pretty quickly resolves itself.

Plame-case obsessives have fantasized about an elaborate conspiracy by Mr. Bush’s neocon cabal to destroy or intimidate critics of the Iraq war. In early 2002, the CIA sent Ms. Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy “yellowcake” uranium there. A year later, after the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Wilson first whispered off the record–and then published on the op-ed page of the New York Times–accusations that the Bush administration had deliberately misrepresented his work. To punish him (or so the theory went) the Bush administration betrayed his wife’s status as an undercover CIA agent.

So much for that! Mr. Armitage, the man who spilled the beans on Ms. Plame, was himself one of the Iraq war’s most ferocious internal critics–and he despised the supposed neocon cabal as heartily as any left-wing blogger. As Messrs. Corn and Isikoff acknowledge: “The initial leaker was not a White House hawk trying to discredit or harm Joe Wilson and his wife.” Mr. Armitage’s motive? His notorious delight in gossip.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff gamely insist that their big scoop does not obliterate the story they wish to tell of a sinister Bush administration effort to savage truth-telling whistleblowers. But it does, it does.

Their preferred villains–vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby and presidential aide Karl Rove–merely confirmed to other journalists what Mr. Armitage had already blabbed. Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove did not act in concert. They were seeking not to defame Mr. Wilson but to respond to a (as it ultimately proved) largely malicious and untruthful attack on the administration’s case for war.

Mr. Wilson contended that his report debunked the Niger yellowcake story. The Senate Intelligence Committee established in 2004 that his report had in fact lent credence to it. In his op-ed article, Mr. Wilson claimed that his report circulated through the Bush administration. In fact, the CIA did not forward it. Mr. Wilson told reporters for the Washington Post that he had concluded that documents attesting to the yellowcake story were forged. Those documents did not come into U.S. possession until months after Mr. Wilson’s mission.

To give Messrs. Corn and Isikoff their due: They may overhype their story, but they tell it well. Those baffled by the controversy’s intricacies will find here a clear account of the major facts, presented in a far more impartial tone than one might have expected from, say, Mr. Corn’s acidic columns in the Nation magazine.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff even fair-mindedly offer details that point to a very different kind of conspiracy than the one investigated by Mr. Fitzgerald. Almost as soon as the scandal erupted, Mr. Armitage confessed his role to his boss and friend Colin Powell. State Department Counsel Bob Taft was also quickly informed. All three men agreed that Mr. Armitage should cooperate fully with Mr. Fitzgerald.

And there the candor stopped. Had Mr. Armitage stepped forward to tell the whole truth to the country and his president, the scandal would have fizzled out before it began. Instead he chose to lie low, because, as Messrs. Corn and Isikoff report: “Public disclosure could be harmful not only for Armitage but for Powell (who had encouraged his deputy’s meeting with Novak).” (Robert Novak was the first journalist to publish Ms. Plame’s name but not the first to whom Mr. Armitage revealed it: That distinction goes to Bob Woodward, to whom Mr. Armitage had talked almost three weeks before.)

Yet such fairness on the part of Messrs. Corn and Isikoff does not compensate for their weird and repeated failures of curiosity about the story’s two lead characters: Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. As almost everybody now agrees, Mr. Wilson was a spectacularly inappropriate choice for the mission to Niger, a man at odds with the administration and anything but trustworthy. The question asked by Vice President Cheney back in 2003 remains a compelling one: Who picked this man? And why?

A 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee makes clear that Mr. Wilson was not telling the truth when he denied that his wife played any role in his selection. The committee found email evidence that she had advanced his name, as she had done for a previous mission in 1999. This one part of the story remains as murky as ever. What was it that set the affair in motion?

Was it ideology? Ms. Plame had donated $1,000 to the Gore campaign in 1999; neither Ms. Plame nor Mr. Wilson made any secret of their hostility to the foreign policy of the Bush administration.

Or was it commerce? Messrs. Corn and Isikoff accept at face value Mr. Wilson’s protestations that he (and therefore Ms. Plame) derived no economic benefit from his envoyship. But Mr. Wilson earned his living as a consultant to U.S. companies seeking to do business in Africa. Such companies greatly value the appearance of high-level access. Undertaking an urgent national-security assignment (and doing so, as Mr. Wilson would later allow it to be thought, at the personal request of the vice president) might dramatically enhance Mr. Wilson’s business prospects. Yet this obvious line of inquiry seems never even to occur to Messrs. Corn and Isikoff.

So “Hubris” will not quite serve as the last word. And yet, at the same time, too much has probably already been said about the whole affair: three years of wild accusations of conspiracy and vendetta, bizarre blogospheric speculations, and empty predictions of imminent indictments. All of that has been exposed, in “Hubris,” as over-whipped Washington froth.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff have now, perhaps reluctantly but certainly conclusively, returned the story to reality. Their work has prodded even the most mainstream of media to accept that this affair has at last worn itself out.

Here’s the Washington Post of Aug. 31: “It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming–falsely, as it turned out–that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”

The Plame case continues to exact a human cost from Scooter Libby, the one man indicted by Mr. Fitzgerald. The courts will decide the merits of that charge. Experts will analyze how much (if any) real harm was done when Mr. Armitage blew Ms. Plame’s cover. As for the rest of us, we can consign the case and the couple at its center to the next edition of Trivial Pursuit.

The Clash Of Eras

David Frum September 11th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Five years on — and how little we have learned! In the first shock of 9/11, opinion leaders hastened to offer their publics comfort and reassurance. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, they said, were the work of a tiny extremist fringe, condemned by the whole world. The terrorists belonged to no culture, no religion: Their cause did not even have a name.

On the other hand, the terrorists’ facelessness implied that they could turn up anywhere. The elderly lady from Iowa ahead of you might be one of them: Better search her carefully at the airline security check.

The good news (or so opinion leaders continued) was that in our struggle against terror, we could count on the support of almost all of the world’s one billion Muslims. And if any in that huge population did not support us — if indeed some of them hated us — that was an easily fixable problem. Muslim grievances were limited and reasonable: All it would take to assuage them was a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel.

Very little of this was true, as has become increasingly obvious over the past five years.

In a major survey conducted this summer, one in four British Muslims described the 7/7 attacks as “justified.” One-third of British Muslims said they would prefer living under Sharia to living under British law. Two-thirds said they wished to see legal punishments for those who in any way insulted Islam.

Here in North America, we see less professed radicalism, but instead a disturbing pattern of financial support for terrorist activity. The CIA estimates that one-third of Islamic charities offer support for military and paramilitary “resistance” movements somewhere around the world. After the Persian Gulf region, North America is the second largest source of donations to such charities. The largest Islamic charity in the United States was closed down by the U.S. Treasury for terror support in December 2001; Canada has closed five Islamic charities for their ties to al Qaeda: Human Concern International, Benevolence International, the Islamic Relief Organization, the Muslim World League, and the SAAR Foundation.

The good news is that police forces and treasury departments are quietly following the evidence where it leads. The bad news is that they do not dare acknowledge what they are doing.

Because we refuse to talk candidly to ourselves about the real nature of the threat, we waste tens of billions of dollars of public and private resources on unfocused enforcement. Meanwhile, enforcement policies that could actually work — like the U.S. National Security Agency’s data-mining of phone calling patterns to map possible terrorist networks — are denounced as violations of civil rights and liberties.

But the errors go beyond the waste of money.

Since 9/11, many Western governments — including Canada’s defunct Chretien government — have convinced themselves that the real answer to the terror problem is (in the astute words of Jason Burke, Europe editor of the Observer newspaper) to “separate the violent radicals who want to destroy and replace the modern state from the political Islamists who want to appropriate it.”

To that end, Western governments have tried to engage groups like the Muslim Council of Britain and the Council on American-Islamic Relations — groups that reject the violent methods of al Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but that share their guiding ideology to a very disturbing degree.

Engagement comes at a price. As the Danish cartoon affair demonstrated, the need to accommodate political Islam often requires Western governments to remain passive as the rights and liberties of their citizens are abridged.

Only last week came this story: One of Germany’s most prominent lawyers, Seyran Ates, has resigned her legal practice. Ates, herself a Turkish immigrant to Germany, represented Muslim women seeking escape from arranged marriages. She has come under increasing threat in recent years, but the decisive moment arrived for her earlier this year. As she and one of her clients emerged from a German courthouse, the husband physically assaulted them both. Her client has had to go into hiding; the husband remains at large. German police denied her requests for protection.

The 9/11 attacks were the most dramatic atrocities in a larger struggle: “a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings.”

Those are the brave words of Dr. Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American living in Los Angeles. For speaking thus on al-Jazeera, she too now lives under the threat of death. Until her fellow citizens of the West can bring themselves to speak with equal candour about political Islam, we will not even have begun to fight back. Five years after 9/11, is it really still too early to start?

President John Mccain? Not Likely

David Frum September 9th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

This was a week of clever manoeuvres. First, George Bush announced that he would at last bring the captured 9/11 plotters to trial by military commission–if Congress would give him the authority to do so. That puts Democrats in Congress in a very awkward spot. The voters will want justice executed; the Democrats’ key constituencies and big donors are calling the commissions “kangaroo courts.”

Then, Senator John McCain (the presumptive front-runner for the Republican nomination) revealed his trick: He immediately produced his own version of the President’s bill–but one calculated to appeal more to Democrats and the media.

McCain has been performing variations on this same trick for a decade now: vibrating back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, always to intense media acclaim. Can a man really become president in this way?

Most people assume that the answer is yes. According to this usual view, manoeuvres like this week’s only enhance McCain’s popularity: They move him far enough away from Bush to woo moderates and Democrats–but not so far as to alienate the Republican base.

Well, maybe. But there’s a catch: Call it the Lieberman catch.

McCain’s friend and Senate colleague Joe Lieberman likewise made a career out of vibrating between the parties. Like McCain, Lieberman never really strayed that far from the Democratic line: He accumulated a strongly liberal voting record, adhering with special fidelity to every last demand of the environmentalist and civil rights lobbies.

But even though he voted liberal, he forfeited liberal trust. And last month, he forfeited the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from Connecticut.

Conservative Republicans likewise do not trust John McCain. And candidates who cannot win the trust of their parties do not win their parties’ primaries.

Then there’s a second–and more important–catch: Call it the Eisenhower catch. The American presidency is the supreme executive job on planet Earth. And American voters not unreasonably tend to demand executive experience from job applicants.

If you look at the list of the winners of presidential elections since 1900, you’ll notice that they tend to reach the job in very similar ways.

1) They served as vice president to a popular president. (Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush.)

Or 2) They earned a record as a successful governor. (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush.)

Or 3) They achieved some huge success in command of some vital mission for the United States. (William Howard Taft as the first governor general of America’s new Philippine colony; Herbert Hoover as the chief administrator of the food program that saved millions in Europe from famine after the First World War; Dwight Eisenhower as commander in chief of the Allied forces in Europe in the Second World War.)

What one qualification do these successful candidates conspicuously lack? Service in the U.S. Senate. In fact, only two men in the 20th century won the presidency with no other qualification than Senate service: Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy.

By contrast, the list of losers is a veritable senate roll call: Senator Bryan (three times!), Senator Stevenson (twice), Senator Goldwater, Senator McGovern, Senator Dole, Senator Kerry.

John McCain, for all his winsome appeal over the TV camera, has never managed anything bigger than a senator’s office. By contrast, McCain’s Republican opponents include two outstanding executives:

Rudy Giuliani, the most successful mayor in U.S. history, who cut New York City’s crime rate by two thirds, restored its economy and personally managed the 9/11 emergency response; and also Mitt Romney, a successful businessman, who went on to save the 2002 Olympics from scandal and disaster, and then won election as a Republican governor in Massachusetts, where he balanced the state’s budget and widened health coverage without raising taxes.

Romney lacks McCain’s name recognition; Giuliani is even more to the left on social issues than McCain. But as Republicans review the experience of the past 6 years–from 9/11 to Iraq to Harriet Miers to Katrina–many of them may decide: Management matters.

McCain may prove a brilliant manager. The American public may decide that we are never too old to try new things. They may decide to trust the country to a candidate who, if elected, will be simultaneously the oldest president in American history and the least experienced since John F. Kennedy. They may decide these things. But if history offers any guidance, they probably won’t.