Alton Parker Redux

Alton Parker. John W. Davis. Wendell Wilkie. Hillary Cinton/Barack Obama.

In 1904, the Democrats, concerned about the radicalism of William Jennings Bryan, cast about for a more reasonable candidate, finally settling on Alton Parker, a non-entity whose entire public service consisted of serving in the New York Judiciary. Parker was so unimpressive and anonymous that one source reports that he stands alone as the only major party presidential nominee never honored with a biography.

In 1924, again devoid of volunteers to run against a popular Republican president, the Democrats turned to John W. Davis. Although an accomplished lawyer, Davis’s elective public service consisted of precisely one term in Congress. Losing the presidential election badly, he passed into historical anonymity.

But even Davis’s meager experience dwarfed that of Wendell Wilkie, the 1940 GOP candidate against Roosevelt, who never once held public office. Wilkie lingers on in popular memory only by virtue of being immortalized by a mischievous gremlin in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Come now Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama, one of whom, barring an act of God, will be the Democratic nominee for President. These two frontrunners, akin to Messers Parker, Davis, and Wilkie, share an almost breathtaking lack of qualifications to be President. Never in the history of the Republic has the presidency been entrusted to someone as unaccomplished as either of the two aspirants to the Democratic nomination.

Hillary Clinton’s qualifications are almost wholly derivative. She enjoys precisely one year’s worth of executive experience, and that when she served as president of her college class at Wesleyan. In her own right, her eight years of legislative experience might charitably be described as undistinguished. Although a national figure because of her marriage, she boasts no substantive personal legislative accomplishment whatsoever. America’s answer to Evita.

But compared with Obama, Clinton seems a wizened and grizzled veteran. It takes quite a bit to make Hillary seem a calm, sober, reasonable adult, but Obama pulls it off. Certainly at no point in recent memory has a less qualified, less accomplished candidate enjoyed the possibility of carrying a major party’s presidential standard.

Obama’s experience rivals that of Mr. Davis. He has served precisely two years in national office and, in that time, has cut a narrow, partisan path utterly devoid of substance. Indeed, on substance, he was recently named the worst … er, most liberal Senator in DC. Worse than Ted Kennedy; worse than Chuck Schumer. Perhaps self-described socialist Bernie Sanders might offer Obama a stiff challenge this term, but, to date, Obama stands alone as the nation’s left-most Senator.

Were either Clinton or Obama white men, their candidacy would never have survived the vanity stage. Obama racks up huge majorities among blacks, Clinton among women; they make more or less naked appeals to the politics of identity. Indeed, virtually all of the truly qualified Democratic candidates – Biden, Richardson, Dodd – suffering from terminal white-malism, were long ago swept from the race. The two remaining candidates seek – and obtain — support, in large measure, based upon accidents of birth rather than on the strength of their ideas.

Obama clearly understands that. He has taken to castigating Hillary for trumpeting her experience, noting – accurately – that neither Democratic candidate wins that debate against any Republican, let alone nominee presumptive John McCain. We should, Obama avers, look ahead, not back, contending that actually proving oneself competent should abide election to the Presidency.

Although this sounds absurd on its face, he may be on to something. Given its disgust with all things political, the electorate might incline toward Obama’s soothing and soaring (albeit vapid) rhetoric rather than paying attention to either his sparse experience or the hard leftism his meager record demonstrates. Not to mention, he’s young and cute. Utterly devoid of qualifications, Obama deftly deploys that lack of qualifications as a qualification: he can’t be blamed for the present state of affairs.

But the presidency is not an entry level position. Imagine, for instance, starting a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl. And not just any rookie, but one in his first NFL game, never even having so much as led the team in a practice. It’s certainly possible that he might excel, but the odds are phenomenally long, and no sane team would resort to such an extreme measure, absent catastrophe. Electing someone without a record and utterly without experience, constitutes a terrible risk. Americans, prudently, have not done so in considerably more than a century, if ever.

GOP nominee presumptive John McCain boasts impressive credentials: exemplary military service, extensive service in Congress, a proven record. Many conservatives – quite properly – recoil at some of that record, but after decades in federal office, he offers the electorate a record which permits an informed decision on his candidacy. Not so either of the Democrats; neither one of which has done anything of substance or made a record which permits anything other than a guess as to their ability to actually govern.

Perhaps, fifty years hence, people will remember Obama (or Clinton) as nothing more than a punch line, having suffered the kind of defeat such a complete lack of qualifications merits. If actually being qualified for the job they seek matters to the electorate, Clinton or Obama will rate a place next to Parker, Davis, and Wilkie as the least accomplished candidate ever to seek the presidency. Better, by far, that they should be a historical curiosity as the least qualified candidate in the last 70 years than that they should rate notice as the least qualified president ever elected.