Ken Adelman grows out of office

On Monday, I mentioned Ken Adelman’s statement that he intends to vote for Barack Obama. This decision, as Adelman explains it, is not based on a high regard for Obama; the best Adelman can say about the Demcratic candidate is that he “hopes” Obama is more “open, centrist, and sensible. . .than his liberal record indicates.”

Adelman instead will vote for Obama because of his misgivings about John McCain. One of the main reasons for his misgivings is McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin. Adelman says that Palin lacks experience to the point that he “would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency.”

But Adelman was not always of the view that experience and intellectual complexity are prerequisites for a successful presidency (let alone, vice presidency). In a July 10, 1980 Wall Street Journal article, Adelman vigorously defended Ronald Reagan against charges that he was too “simple” and inexperienced to succeed in the White House.

Adelman did not dispute Reagan’s “simplicity” or defend his experience. Rather, he attacked “the conventional wisdom that simplicity dooms a leader, that intellectual acuity destines one to greatness or that experience before or during the presidency assures adroit leadership of the nation’s affairs.”

In support of his position, Adelman compared Abraham Lincoln — “among the least prepared of all time” for presidency, having served just one term in Congress — to James Buchanan — “among the best prepared” given his extensive service in both Houses of Congress, his experience as an ambassador, and his time as Secretary of State.

Adelman also cited the example of Harry Truman. Adelman quoted Dean Acheson, who described Truman as “simple as a man great as a president” and acclaimed Truman’s mind as “uncluttered with abstractions.”

For some reason, surely not the belief that he was wrong about Reagan, Adelman seems now to have embraced the conventional wisdom he attacked in 1980. Perhaps it’s due to almost 30 more years in Washington. But even that doesn’t explain why Adelman seems untroubled by Obama’s selection of Joe Biden who, if his talking provides a window, possesses a “cluttered,” but far from acute, mind. Adelman also seems happy to ignore Biden’s consistent record of being wrong — about the first Gulf War, about the surge, about partitioning Iraq, and about the Iranian “moderates,” to name a few examples.

I’m less sanguine about candidates with “uncluttered” minds than Adelman was in 1980, but less troubled by them than he is today.

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