DENVER Let's hear it for youth and inexperience.
After choosing little-known Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, it's going to be a little hard for Sen. John McCain to hold those qualities against Sen. Barack Obama.
After all, the vice president's only official job is to be one heartbeat away from the presidency.
Palin's rise raises intriguing questions, like how much does experience count anyway?
If Obama's resume in national and foreign affairs is "thin," as his critics point out, you could read a newspaper through hers. She stands out in stark contrast to Sen. Joe Biden, Obama's running mate, a seasoned chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But I see she holds a college degree in journalism. I feel better about her already.
Besides, this campaign already has raised intriguing questions about how much experience should count in choosing a president or vice president.
Bill Clinton offered one of the most significant punch lines of the week during the Democratic convention when he reminded Democrats that "Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief. Sound familiar?"
Of course. The crowd went wild. Cheers. Applause. War whoops. It will be hard for anyone to say "You're no Bill Clinton" to Obama after Bill Clinton himself has called Obama another Bill Clinton.
Clinton punched a big hole through the question of whether a half-term in the Senate and eight years in the Illinois General Assembly offered Obama enough experience to lead the nation. "It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history," Clinton said. "And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."
Which side of history you end up on has less to do with experience, it appears, than with one's ability to grab hold of the spirit of the times and connect with masses of people. Clinton understood that when he ran his own winning "Change vs. More of the Same" campaign in 1992. He addressed that year's national economic anxieties more effectively than President George H. W. Bush did.
Leadership is most dramatically tested in a crisis. President Clinton presided over an economic boom and a drop in crime, yet presidents like him get less credit for leadership than, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who held us together through the Great Depression and a war.
Obama, a first-term senator, has more Washington experience than Abraham Lincoln, who took office after serving only one undistinguished term in the House. Yet Lincoln is forever remembered for leading this country through its biggest domestic crisis, the Civil War.
Yet, Obama's rapid rise owes much to his being in the right place and time with the right inspiring thoughts for the nation.
Even at the bottom of his local popularity, Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York rose up amid the chaos of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to bark orders and offer a commanding reassuring presence that resonated across the country. Four years later, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we searched for another Giuliani-like leader from the White House to the governor's mansion to the mayor's office in vain.
At the time of Obama's game-changing speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, Democrats were ready for a new generational alternative to the Revs. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Obama captured that spirit and has managed to ride it all the way to his party's nomination.
Now McCain, like Sen. Hillary Clinton during the primaries, mocks Obama's celebrity and speechmaking skills, as if the substance or impact of those speeches didn't matter. Yet, it is through great speeches that great leaders seize the spirit of the times and, in many cases, become famous.
"What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me," Obama said in his nomination acceptance speech. "It's been about you!" The crowd noisily approved that observation. A key to good leadership is your ability to remember that your followers are always more important than you.