Ialways laugh when politicians tell voters who is “fit to lead.” It reminds me of a cat telling mice where they should hide.

Last week, John Kerry told us John Edwards, his new vice presidential candidate, was fit to lead, even though earlier this year he criticized Edwards, saying the White House “was no place for on-the-job training.”

Edwards, for his part, told groups of cheering fans that his new boss was fit to lead, even though a few months ago, Edwards was doing his best to knock Kerry out of the race.

President George W. Bush, when asked to compare Edwards to his vice president, Dick Cheney, responded by setting his jaw and quipping, “Dick Cheney can be president.”

To which pundits immediately replied, “We thought Dick Cheney was president.”

Let’s face it. When it comes to the White House, who really knows what it takes to be a good president — let alone a good vice president? Bush’s father once joked that the vice president was the man who got sent to funerals overseas. Yet people accuse the current vice president of creating funerals overseas.

Which is it?

A who’s who in the race

The fact is, there is no formula for the White House. And the people running for that office should show enough respect to, please, finally, stop trying to define it for us.

After all, does Bush really want to tell people that Edwards’ one term as senator isn’t enough to warrant a vice presidential nod? Bush himself had only five total years in politics before he became president. Before that, Bush had been a failed businessmen and a bit of a runabout, bailed out by his father’s connections numerous times.

Is that really the profile of a leader?

Conversely, too much experience doesn’t seem to be a good thing, either. Cheney certainly put his time into public office. He served as Defense secretary, White House chief of staff and Wyoming congressman. But his critics say his secrecy, cronyism and Cold War approach are the kind of thinking that needs to be expelled.

Too much experience? Or too little?

Which is it?

Make up your mind.

Looks can be deceiving

John Kerry has been in politics for a quarter of a century. What has that gotten him? Critics rifle through his voting record and pluck it apart, using his years on the job to define him as a hypocrite (as if none of us has ever changed our mind on anything in 25 years).

And then there’s the military factor. Kerry, who makes such a big deal of his admirable Vietnam days, chooses a vice presidential candidate with no time in the military. Meanwhile, Bush and Cheney, who claim Democrats don’t know how to lead a war, have zero years of war experience between them. So do you need to have served, or don’t you?

What about being “a man of the people”? Bush walks and talks like a Texas farmhand, but he’s a rich kid from Yale. Kerry likes to tell you he plays hockey, but he’s blue blood all the way. Cheney points out that Edwards is a rich trial lawyer, a loathsome profession. But Edwards will claim he got rich by sticking it to loathsome, insensitive corporations, like the one Cheney used to run.

History shows that there is no perfect footprint here. John F. Kennedy had relatively little experience, yet people adored him. Richard Nixon had a pedigree a mile long, yet many hated him. Ronald Reagan had bad movies in his past, yet he got elected twice. The elder Bush, a Washington insider, couldn’t hold off a Washington outsider named Clinton.

When Al Gore ran against him in 2000, George W. Bush claimed it was time for a change. With Kerry running against him, Bush says stick with experience. Kerry’s rival is now his partner. Edwards’ rival is now his boss. Cheney does too much. Edwards does too little. With all this confusion, it’s almost a relief that, in the end, the November election will, as always, come down to that one essential American quality:

Who looks best on TV?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com

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