Choose candidates on ability, not electability

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am

The US presidential race is a domestic matter, with issues that affect the daily lives of Americans dominating campaigning. But political kingmakers and those casting ballots in November should also realise that they live in a globalised world. Their nation is more economically and militarily powerful than any other and what is said and done in Washington has far-reaching implications internationally.

A strong leader with a good grasp of domestic and foreign policy issues is the ideal. The vice-president should be similarly equipped to deal with such matters as an adviser and when required, to step into the president's shoes. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case; as the present campaign shows, electability can take precedence. This was why the ruling Republican Party's presidential nominee, John McCain, chose Alaska's governor for the past two years, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Through her, he seeks to attract voters he would not ordinarily appeal to: women, those in more youthful age brackets and people on the conservative side of his party. For those qualities he has foregone high-level experience in government and a firm understanding of foreign policy.

The Democrats' nominee, Barack Obama, has been a senator in Washington for just 20 months, before which he served in the senate of his state, Illinois, for seven years. He is charismatic and speaks with ease on domestic issues. Matters beyond US shores have not been his strong point; that was plainly shown with the recent Russian military incursion into Georgia, where he was unconvincing in his views compared with the decisiveness of Senator McCain. He has attempted to make up for his deficiencies through his running mate, the veteran senator from Delaware, Joe Biden.

The US sets itself out as a model for other nations on democracy, human rights and the way it conducts itself. This does not fit well with the way it chooses its leaders. The ability to attract voters should be weighed against competency in governing the world's most powerful nation. It is possible to learn such skills on the job with the help of advisers. Given the chance of failure, though, making choices based on the likelihood of winning votes is irresponsible.