But I have found myself thinking about something I was told many years ago by Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, before he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against Al Gore in 2000. Bradley was explaining one day in his office why he had taken himself out of consideration as a running mate for Michael Dukakis in 1988. You shouldn’t run for vice president, he said, unless you thought you were ready to be president, and he didn’t consider himself ready.
Why not? He said he thought a president of the United States needed to know several other major countries “from the inside,” not just at a briefing-book level but from firsthand observation, so you understand the pressures on their leaders when you sit down to negotiate with them. Bradley had begun such studies in the Soviet Union, Japan, Germany and Mexico, he said, but had more to do in all four places, and China beckoned.
Then, he said, a president should know the leadership elites in this country — not just in politics but in business, the professions, academia, labor — well enough that he would know where to go to staff his administration. And, he said, you needed to know the policy community well enough to be able to navigate for useful advice.
I thought then — and I still believe — that that was as insightful a description of the desirable background for a president as I had ever heard. Bradley turned out to have his shortcomings as a campaigner, but his prescription for a president still seems right.
When all the fun and games are finished, Americans will be choosing a president for a dangerous time in a world that has more shocks to administer. I hope that some of the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire are thinking about that.