THE BLOG
12/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Clinton Lays Out What Matters in a President; McCain Flunks the Test

One problem with the onslaught of campaign "moments" in the rush up to the election is that a few can get lost in the fray. Bill Clinton gave one of the best speeches of his political career on Wednesday night in Kissimmee, FLA., and he did it in one sentence.

"The four things that really matter in a president are: number one, the philosophy; number two, the policies; number three, the ability to make a decision; and number four, the ability to execute that decision and make changes in people's lives."

In one, swift moment, William Jefferson Clinton crystalized not only what a presidency is all about in once sentence, but he also set up a very clear reason for anyone to understand why Barack Obama fits that mold, and John McCain does not.

1. Philosophy

All presidents, good and bad, have had one. Even W. had a philosophy. Most can be encapsulated in a phrase or two that their speechwriters' find to make the concept easy. For Ronald Reagan it was "It's morning in America again," after decades with Nixon, Ford, and Carter. H.W. Bush's "Thousand points of light" speech framed his philosophy of a diplomatically strong America rewarded domestically by global peace and prosperity. For Obama the mantra is "It's time to change this country and put it back on the right track." W wanted to bring America back to "core values." Right or wrong, all of them have clear ideas of where they want to take the country.

Especially in the last few weeks, from the debates into the waning days of the election, it has become clear that John McCain has no such clear philosophy. His talking points have either aped Obama's, as the candidate with the focus took the philosophical high ground, or his campaign has tried to throw out whatever life preserver of an idea that they can find to hook their base for turnout.


2. The Policies

Barack Obama began with a clear philosophy. He articulated a series of policies on every subject under the sun. He has stuck with those policies, and modified a few for details, but not shifted them in core values. This has allowed him to attract to his campaign solid people who can help not only his presidency, but America as well, from Warren Buffett and former treasury secretrary Robert Rubin on finance, to Collin Powell and Madeline Albright. Strong policies make for strong leadership, because everyone on Obama's "team" across a broad swath of government can be on the same page.

John McCain's team is sending out resumes, back-biting, and otherwise sniping internally. They can't even get "Joe the Plumber" to his gig and embarrass the candidate. They switch strategies and policies by the day week, and hour. If this is any indication of how McCain will rule, it should truly frighten anyone who is actually looking at it, and not just clutching on to their wallet or Bible.

3. The Ability to Make a Decision

Obama has demonstrated time and time again that he can make sound, strong decisions, from piecing together the most successful political campaign in history that has energized more volunteers and raised more money than any other campaign, possibly more than even John F. Kennedy, because of his broad leverage of the Internet.

We have seen him make many tactical decisions, including not caving in to the liberal left, as he proved again last night when Rachael Maddow asked him why he was not attacking the Republicans and conservative philosophies and policies. He knows that he has to lead by consensus, and that he is going to have to temper his party's enthusiasm for attack and blood-sport if he is going to navigate the country forward. He does it with grace and a smile and a relaxed comfort.

McCain is uncomfortable as a person in public. This whole thing is killing him, from having to hug Sarah Palin on stage when he's pissed off at her for undercutting him repeatedly, to controlling his temper that is famous around Washington. How will he keep that persona up for four years, and what will suppressing it do to his judgment in policy?

4. The Ability to Execute

Look at both campaigns. One has 100,000 people at the same event that 4,000 turn out in the same city on the same day. McCain is busing school children in to fill in an event where Sarah Palin is not on the stump. Look at the way that they organize. Obama is swift on the Internet, using the latest technologies to reach masses of Americans quickly. McCain's people do not leverage the technology, nor do their base, which have suspicions of the Internet as a communication tool.

Time and again Obama has executed flawlessly over the primaries and the general election. Time and time again his organization has sought out the best and brightest to bring their expertise. He has managed to mend fences, even with Bill Clinton, for whom such endorsements after a bitter primary, have not come easily. The ability to execute means being able to see the bigger picture, and Barack Obama seems to "get it" on everything from our crushing debt to wonky things like plugging cars into the electrical grid and downloading the energy that they create.

He gets these things in a real, organic, fashion. He is not a front for his wonky staff. He is an intellectual, top of his Harvard class, who has a depth of understanding and a passion that has kept him relaxed and smiling through thousands of stops and interviews.

By contrast, Mr. McCain seems stressed and does not possess a grasp of how to execute. His shoot from the hip system has backfired time and again, from his "suspended" campaign to the pick of Mrs. Palin who has outshone him on the stump.

Bill Clinton framed the choice as only a president could. Read his full speech at Real Clear Politics. It's one for the ages.