Barack Obama's recent NORAD tour and renewed call for national service demonstrated an important milestone in his campaign: passing the NORAD Test for presidential candidates.
What is the NORAD Test? In my book Campaign Boot Camp, I describe it as follows:
Assume that, as happened on September 11, 2001, it would take about seven minutes from the time that NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command ) gets word that the country is under attack to the time that fighter jets can be scrambled in response. If NORAD identifies a threat -- a hijacked airplane or a missile over a U.S. population area -- should the president order the jets to fire? At whom? With how many American lives at risk on the plane or on the ground?
Picture yourself or a loved one on the plane, in the targeted population area, or watching safe from immediate harm as the crisis unfolds. What do you want your president to do? What vision, ideas, and values do you want to see in the president who would have only those brief and critical seven minutes to make life-or-death decisions?"
As I picture myself on the plane, on the ground, or anywhere in need of military assistance for an attack or natural disaster, I want a president with a vision for a safe America; the intellect to gather good intelligence and to act intelligently on it; ideas to empower a strong military capable of defending America; and the values of service and shared sacrifice to ensure that we are all in this together. I would want my family protected, and to be sure that nothing detract from retaliation directed at the perpetrators of the crime.
Vision for a safe America? Check. More than just pictures and prose, Barack Obama gave us a prelude to his presidency: hands-on information gathering, intellectual and emotional call to service that will keep us safe and free. By assuring that the Democratic platform will call for military and civilian service, Obama envisions a country strengthened by the participation of all Americans from all walks of life. That's good policy -- and good politics.
Intelligent intelligence? Check. As Barack Obama toured the NORAD facility, getting firsthand information from Gen. Victor E. Renuart, the commander of NORAD and the Northern Command, who described military and natural disaster response, he listened and he learned from the people on whose information he must depend as President. He has called for increased resources for human and technological intelligence gathering. And yes, he had the judgment to support a military response to 9/11 including the capture of the still-at-large Osama bin Laden - and the judgment to oppose a war in Iraq that had no connection to 9/11. Knowing when, how, and at whom to strike is essential to our national security.
Ideas to empower a strong military? Check. Barack Obama called Americans to serve, expanding America's military readiness with tens of thousands of new recruits:
"This is the divide that separates you from the ability to shape your own destiny. So I am asking you -- on this 4th of July -- to reject that divide, to step into the strong currents of history, and to shape your country's future. Because your own story and the American story are not separate, they are shared."
Values of service and shared sacrifice? Check. Barack Obama did not just call for more Americans to sacrifice for neighborhood and country -- he put out a $3.5-billion national service plan that would double the size of the Peace Corps, recruit retired engineers and scientists to tutor students, and offer college students tuition aid in return for community service. He fought for the Democratic Congress' bipartisan 21st Century GI Bill of Rights (opposed by the Bush-McCain forces) and would include a Green Vet initiative, training veterans for jobs in industries devoted to renewable energy sources because "it's time to end our energy dependence at home so our national security isn't held hostage to oil and gas from abroad."
One command tour, one service speech, one campaign platform, one legislative record in and of itself alone does not qualify anyone to pass the NORAD Test; but, taken together, they reflect a pattern of judgment and a fitness to lead. While even our best efforts may not protect all of us from all the threats we face as a nation, we deserve to entrust our safety to a leader with the vision, intellect, ideas, and values to command, protect, and call us to service: President Barack Obama.