You must remember this: "He worked as a community organizer."
Rudolph Giuliani paused to choke on the words in his speech at the 2008 Republican convention, followed by a gasp, waves of laughter and more ridicule.
It became a punch line, the part of Barack Obama's resume that had him working with Roman Catholic parishes on Chicago's South Side to help the unemployed. The kicker was delivered by Sarah Palin when she touted her own credentials. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer except that you have actual responsibilities."
On paper, the war hero with decades of political experience is far more qualified to make life-and-death decisions than a candidate yet to be scuffed by conflict. "You're hiring someone to do a job," said Giuliani, in framing the choice that year, "a job that has to do with the safety of your family."
Turns out, having a community organizer in the White House Situation Room was not a bad thing. Perhaps better than a senator who was afraid to offend an ally. And surely better than a governor who couldn't even finish her one job with actual responsibilities. Among other things, the most critical 40 minutes of the Obama presidency prove a point backed by history: judgment and temperament are far more important than a resume.
Harry S. Truman was ridiculed as a haberdasher - a wonderful old word that fell out of use as men's clothiers gave way to big-box retailers. He was also the only 20th century American president without a college degree.
Yet Truman finished the war against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan and oversaw plans that got Europe back on its feet. He racially integrated the armed forces by executive order. History has been kind to him. And, by the way, he was a failed haberdasher at that; his store went bankrupt.
Ronald Reagan, that B-list actor - what could he know about running the most powerful nation in the world? Instinctively, he knew enough to make peace with a Cold War adversary at the right moment rather than push him into a nuclear corner.
It was the most seasoned of Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who initially raised doubts about whether Americans could count on an untested Barack Obama to answer the dreaded 3 a.m. phone call.
And this theme continued in the general election when Sen. John McCain pummeled Obama for saying he would go into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden, diplomatic formalities be damned. "Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan?" asked McCain.
To their credit, both Giuliani and McCain have since been gracious in commending Obama on his order to get the world's most wanted mass killer. Giuliani even toured ground zero with the president on Thursday, looking mighty pleased to be with the former community organizer in his moment of triumph.
Other Republicans - not so good. Newt Gingrich, just to pick a paragon of bad judgment out of the hat, is a college term paper on how a resume does not make a leader. Gingrich, who is officially, formally, finally and forever announcing that he is sort of, kind of, maybe, oh-what-hell-why-not running for president today, had an interesting take on the airstrikes in Libya.
First, he criticized President Obama for not imposing a no-fly zone. Then he hit him for imposing a no-fly zone. In two weeks' time, he went from saying he would intervene "this evening" to saying, "I would not have intervened."
Just before the worst oil spill in history, he started a campaign to unfetter the oil industry, with the slogan, "Drill here, drill now."
For historical perspective, Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats pose "as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union." This was in one of his books, a product of deliberative phrasing, not some word spasm for the birther set. Imagine that temperament in the Situation Room.
There's no telling, really, if Obama's time trying to help people with rental leases and job applications did him any good in the hunt for bin Laden. As president, he has shown himself to be a thoughtful ditherer, someone who encourages opposing views, even when others are clamoring for him to Do Something Now! In this case, it was nine months of containing the biggest secret in the world that ended with one of "the longest 40 minutes of my life," an operation he thought had only a 55 percent chance of succeeding.
But the man who walked out of the Situation Room with the words "We got him" showed that he had learned, somewhere, that patience can pay off. No doubt, those many thankless days with the South Side poor were instructive.
© 2011 New York Times