An election of issues or skills?

As we’ve been celebrating this month what remarkable people our country’s founders were, it’s tempting to wonder what they would think of how we’re handling their legacy.

They would undoubtedly be thunderstruck that a man of color is in serious contention to be the next president, although some of them might think it certainly has taken us a long time to get to this point.

They might be taken aback at John McCain’s age, especially George Washington, who was four years younger than McCain when he died at 67, sick and exhausted.

They’d probably would not be too surprised at the bitter fighting in Congress, although they’d be stunned at the lack of civility in those august chambers.

They might be concerned about the number of contentious 5-to-4 decisions in the Supreme Court, suggesting that society still has not been able to agree on some of the most important principles they considered in founding their new nation.

Some of them certainly would be aghast at how far flung the reach of American power has become and probably would worry that we’re stretched too thin.

But, all in all, they’d probably be rather proud at what they accomplished and how long it has lasted.

Nonetheless, they might be a trifle bit disturbed that we’re about to elect a leader with very little managerial experience.

Barack Obama, a lawyer and community organizer, elected to the Senate just four years ago, has a lot of charm and charisma but not much experience.

John McCain, who spent five years in a Vietcong prison camp, has never run anything but his Senate office. He has just shaken up his campaign yet again, this time hiring some of those who helped get the current president, George W. Bush, into office, including associates of Karl Rove.

One of the doubts about Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was that her campaign was disorganized, full of infighting and spendthrift.

Now we’re looking more closely at the guys, and, it must be said, from a management point of view, they’re not much better, although Obama seems to be a quicker study than McCain when it comes to fixing mistakes.

McCain can’t seem to figure out what message he wants to push on any given day, and he can’t seem to figure out who he wants advising him on any given day. So the big GOP guns got together and forced him to overhaul his campaign apparatus yet again. Almost immediately, they found loopholes in the very campaign finance law that has McCain’s name on it and figured out how to use those loopholes so McCain can get big bucks too. (Obama once promised to abide by the campaign finance law’s restrictions; now that he has the nomination, he’s bypassing them to get more money.)

Obama’s campaign made a huge gaffe when his campaign manager suggested Obama could win the White House without Ohio. This is so stupid the mind reels. It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull while you’re sitting down in front of him with your ankles tied together. (George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 only because one county in Ohio switched its allegiance to him). Almost the next minute after the aide’s mistake, Obama was on his way to southeastern Ohio. It won’t be his last trip there, aides said. Duh.

Some of Obama’s personnel decisions have been odd, too: His association with his strange pastor, his appointing a former head of Fannie Mae to vet his running mate who then had to resign because of questionable favored treatment from loan officers, his appointing of an aide Hillary Clinton fired; his foreign policy aide who had to resign after she called Clinton a monster. All are causes for concern; the next president has to appoint 3,000 executives to run the government.

Both men have flip-flopped big time on major issues, from campaign financing to trade to environmental protection to foreign policy. In fact, total about-faces are now so common they barely raise eyebrows. And then each campaign insists their candidate is the one running on principle and consistency!

We sometimes say we want government run like a business. But we really don’t.

We don’t want my-way-or-the-highway decision-making — we want our leaders to listen to us. We don’t even want bottom-line budgeting; we want our Social Security and our Medicare too. And we definitely don’t hire our leaders for their management skills. Usually, the campaigns are so secretive, we don’t even find out how much in turmoil they all are until after the election.

We elect leaders whose personalities we like. We elect leaders who say what we want them to say.

Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes we don’t.

Man, do we need some luck this year.


(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)