The 2008 presidential election so far, like the institution of serial marriage, represents the triumph of hope over experience. With the designation of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for Vice President, each of the major tickets will include one member under the age of 50. And neither of them, let the record show, is a white man.
Between them, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have held statewide office for not quite six years. And between them, Obama and Palin have now inspired critics across the political spectrum, including more than one presidential candidate, to rail against youth, to champion experience, and to quiver at the prospect of a fit, attractive, 40-something Commander-in-Chief.
A pox on those naysayers. On this forum I've repeatedly touted the virtues of juniority, especially in academic administration. The political sphere is no different. If there is one strain permeating this year's presidential derby, it is a deeply held yearning, left and right alike, for something besides politics as usual. Everyone wants change. The only question — and it is a good one — is what kind.
Abraham Lincoln had little experience before he became President. Relative to Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy had somewhat more experience, but these respected Presidents were 40-somethings in their day. Herbert Hoover brought so much experience to the White House that the Presidency was almost a demotion. It proved not to matter so much.
It isn't the length of the résumé that matters as much as the candidate's capacity to lead. Voters can and should judge Obama and Palin according to their positions on the issues. Those positions, and these candidates' ability to transform ideas into action, should count for far more than mere age.