Jonah Goldberg

It looks like the presidential battle will be about one overarching theme: judgment versus experience. And Exhibit A will be the Iraq war.

Barack Obama insists that judgment is more important than experience. Truth be told, he's right. A wise leader with no experience is preferable to a moron with plenty. But that's not really our choice.

John McCain argues that experience yields good judgment. The battle-scarred soldier, the trial-tested lawyer, the accomplished surgeon: They make the right calls because they've clocked field time. McCain contends he's walked through the fire and learned valuable lessons as a result.

Obama's people frame things differently. Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod recently told the Huffington Post: "It is not a question of longevity in government. It is a question of judgment, it is a question of a willingness to challenge policies that have failed. And (McCain) seems just dug in."

On the surface, this all sounds like a perfectly reasonable disagreement - indeed, it sounds like precisely the sort of debate we should be having during a presidential election.

The problem is that it doesn't reflect reality. Obama, who was a young state senator from a very liberal district in Chicago and a star parishioner of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ when the country was debating invading Iraq, would have voters believe that he carefully weighed the pros and cons and concluded it would be a bad idea.

You may be willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. I am not. A far more plausible explanation is that Obama took the position you would expect him to take. Just as it never occurred to him that his pastor would be an albatross in a national election, it never dawned on him that he should take a stance other than the one expected of anyone on the far left of the Democratic Party, never mind on the far left of the Chicago Democratic machine. This doesn't necessarily obviate Obama's bragging rights, but the idea that in 2002 he would have taken any other stance strikes me as unlikely as Michael Moore siding with the pro-Bush camp.

Even if you want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, it's hard to give him the benefit of the facts.

As a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2003, Obama said he would "unequivocally" oppose President Bush on the war. But once in office, he voted for every war-funding bill - until he decided to run for president.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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