In order to be READY ON DAY ONE, as both Hillary Clinton and John McCain claim they will be, you have to be ready a long time before that.
You have to come in with a plan. You have to come with a good organization. You have to understand the issues and problems and have some ideas of how to deal with them.
The American campaign process, long, grueling, insanely expensive, with the media jumping on bizarre trivia like flies on garbage, while ignoring the true nutrition of substantive debates, is widely criticized.
But what the campaigns do is force the candidates to show how they conduct themselves under pressure. Their ability to plan. To organize. To build an organization. To raise money. To spend it effectively or badly. To strategize. To communicate through the media to the public. To deal with attacks and unexpected surprises.
Hillary Clinton entered the race with the majority of the big time connections and huge sums of money. She hired the most expensive and well placed operators and consultants that Democratic money could buy. The race was hers -- to win or to lose.
But, apparently, she didn't have a plan. Her organization gave her bad advice. (Or if they gave her good advice, she didn't take it.) Her organization was top heavy. She came in loaded with money. But she spent it less effectively than her opponent did.
Then, he outdid her in fund raising.
She had a strategy of going after the big states. Apparently, she and her team imagined that the system was winner take all, like the national elections with the electoral college, and failed to understand proportional representation.It was the wrong strategy, one that neglected reality.
Once she was under pressure, she began to behave badly. She told stories like the one about being under attack in Bosnia. She tried to cheat, insisting that the Florida and Michigan delegates be counted, even though the rules had said they couldn't be and she hadn't complained when the ruling was made.
She was NOT READY on DAY ONE of the CAMPAIGN. We should expect that she will NOT BE READY on DAY ONE of the PRESIDENCY.
Her record in government tells us much the same thing.
I called her Senate office and asked, "Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton has achieved as Senator."
The answer was, "Go to our website."
I said, "Been there. Didn't find anything substantive. She's my senator. Can't you tell me?"
The staffer hung up. (No, I'm not basing my analysis on one rude staffer. This was just symptomatic of a much longer research effort.)
Which leaves me on my own to figure out how to judge her record in office (and semi-office as first lady).
Ms. Clinton faced two big tests.
The first was health care.
Bill Clinton ran on a platform that called for national health. When he was elected he turned the program over to her. She was to study it (as opposed to have been ready with one on day one), come up with a plan, and then present it.
She did the planning in secret. Even the names of the members of the task force were kept secret, Dick Cheney style. This, rightly, offended many people in the field.
When the proposal was finally released, it was over 1,000 pages long and madly complex. That insured that no one could read it. Except corporations and lobbyists determined to oppose it and who could afford to pay professionals to go through it.
Wikipedia describes the plan this way, "the core element ... was an enforced mandate for employers to provide health insurance coverage to all of their employees through competitive but closely-regulated health maintenance organizations (HMOs)."
In sum, it combined the worst of all possible worlds. It went through insurance companies, thereby insuring that it was the most expensive method. It relied on regulations to control costs, thereby creating maximum government bureaucracy. It pushed HMOs, which we now know from experience to be extremely problematic. It went through employers, making them less competitive in the international market.
Finally, she did not prepare for the industry reaction, the lobbyists and the advertising campaign against her.
Hillary Clinton WAS NOT READY and she set the sensible idea of national health back by at least twenty years.
The second big test was the vote on the Iraq War.
She did not read the national intelligence estimate before she voted.
It was possible to figure out that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction and that the post war occupation would be a quagmire without access to "secret" government documents. But she didn't figure that out. Neither -- and this is important -- did her staff.
She, and they, were conventional Washington insiders and accepted the conventional wisdom.
When it came time to run for president, she staffed her campaign with similar people, and if she is president, we should expect them to trundle along.
She now claims that she didn't know how George Bush would use the authorization. That shows she's a bad judge of character.
It is most likely that she voted as she did so as to appear "tough on terrorism." That is, she was afraid to take the really tough position, because her eye was on presidency, and the pose was more important than the realities.
CLINTON WAS NOT READY to do the work, and not ready to deal with reality -- instead of political considerations. Someone who does not read the best available information, who has staff around her who don't do any better, someone who did not have the forethought to ask about the consequences and the downside risks, is NOT READY TO BE "COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF."
Also, this business of prancing around about being "commander-in-chief," is a George W. Bush innovation. And a very, very bad one. It is a PR ploy, like the staged "Top Gun" carrier landing when for "Mission Accomplished," to imply that the president is out there in the battlefield, rallying the troops, risking life and limb to protect us. More perniciously, it has been used to usurp a host of fundamental powers that do not belong to the president, to violate civil rights, and it has even been used to legitimize the defense that "I was only following orders," for people who commit war crimes.
John McCain has a big problem.
Republicans have been flat out running the country for the last seven years. They've had pretty much a free hand to put their policies in place. Their ideas sound great as sound bites. But now that they've been tried, reality has revealed them as bankrupt.
The economy is in the tank and still swimming toward the bottom. Osama bin Laden is on the loose. The Taliban is making a comeback. Iraq is quagmire. The justice department is a joke. More and more people don't have health care and those that do are discovering their coverage doesn't cover them. Gas is about $4 a gallon and heading up. Food prices are up. Wages are down.
So what is John McCain ready to do on day one?
Continue, down the same road.
Why? Because MCCAIN is NOT READY TO CONFRONT REALITY.
McCain has actually said that the American economy is better than it was in 2000. He believes that tax cuts worked. He wants to make them permanent. Presumably so that the progress he imagines we've made in the last seven years can continue unabated.
McCain said, "The fact is, we are succeeding in Iraq." So he wants to stay there. Doing what we are doing now.
He said, "I intend to win the war in Iraq."
One wonders, how?
McCain is going to "trust in the proven judgment of our commanders there." He refers specifically to Petraeus, "he's one of the finest generals that our military's ever produced." Petraeus is the man who was supposed to train the Iraqi forces to "stand up so that we can stand down." They haven't and we haven't. Then he was put in charge of the whole war, with the surge, so the country would be stabilized, make political progress, and get their police and armed forces to "stand up so that we can stand down."
None of that happened either.
McCain is NOT READY on DAY ONE to do something new, that might work. He is only ready to continue to continue the policies that have already failed.
Like Hillary Clinton, McCain did not read the National Intelligence Estimate before voting to authorize the war in Iraq. He does not appear to think he should have done so.
He thought Iraq represented a "clear and present danger."
He predicted that US forces would be greeted as liberators.
He continues to think it was a good idea to have gone to war in Iraq.
All these are failed ideas. He has not done or said anything to demonstrate that he is now more ready to make good decisions than when he made those foolish ones.
McCain believes in the idea of pre-emptive and preventive wars. This is symptomatic of the Republican sound bite mentality. It ignores reality. Although there are exceptions and complexities, the three best examples of wars started on the assumption that we'd better "do it to them before they do it us," are the current War in Iraq, the German invasion of Russia, and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
In addition to being disasters, such wars were, and theoretically still are, crimes. Though we will never get near to a trial for Bush's War, the other two were called "wars of aggression," the people who perpetrated them were put in the dock, convicted, and some of them were hung.
McCain also would be willing to attack Iran without going to Congress first.
John MCCAIN is NOT READY TO BE COMMANDER IN CHIEF. Or president.
In his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Barack OBAMA has demonstrated that he is the kind of person who is actually READY ON DAY ONE.
Because he got ready before day one.
Obama did his homework. He studied the issues. He came up with policy positions. They were based on reality. He assembled a good team. He developed a national organization, one of great depth. He disavowed lobbyists and raised an astonishing portion of his money from ordinary people.
They came up with a strategy and a plan to win the nomination. It was a better one than Hillary's.
Once he started running, his team worked smoothly. Which demonstrates that he has good judgment in picking people, and that he's good at running an organization. When a crises came up, the Reverend Wright eruption, he not only handled it without losing his balance, he took the occasion to elevate the entire campaign, with one of the greatest speeches I've ever heard.
The real split in this country is between fantasy and reality.
George Bush, the Republican Party, and now, John McCain, represent fantasy.
The reality is that we were attacked by Osama bin Laden, not by an Islamo Fascist Empire of Evil. The reality is that Iran sometimes supports our enemies and sometimes, as they did in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, supports us against our enemies. The reality is that tax cuts for the rich don't pay for themselves. Nor do they improve the lives of everyone else. The reality is that we have government, government policies and regulations for a reason. The reality is that taking money from big corporate donors obligates politicians to them and the result has been that they and their lobbyists literally write our legislation and use the government as a tool to enrich themselves.
This is not to say that Democrats, with a few exceptions, have been able to stand up for reality. To articulate that that there are real problems that require real solutions, not boogie man enemies and sound bite slogans that promise to magically slay them.
Obama has stepped out of the fantasy box. He is willing to examine the realities. And, as he has demonstrated in his campaign so far, come up with a plan to effectively deal with them. Even in a situation as unbelievable as a black man becoming a major party candidate for president.
As the only one of the candidates who deals in Reality, OBAMA is the only candidate who will be READY ON DAY ONE, as "commander-in-chief," or as president.
I didn't write this because I'm an Obama supporter. I wrote it because this "Ready on Day One!" sounded like George Bush nonsense to me. I became an Obama supporter by analyzing the claim and by watching the campaign. Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. All available at nationbooks.org. His new novel: Salvation Boulevard will be published in September, 2008, by Nation Books. Responses can be sent to email@example.com.