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Saturday, December 3, 2016

You likely remember the 3 a.m. phone call.

In 2008, the most effective line of attack his opponents mounted against candidate Barack Obama centered on the freshman senator’s lack of experience. An ad for Hillary Clinton famously implied that you did not want this callow naif answering the phone at a moment of pre-dawn crisis.

Though the country eventually decided it did, in fact, want Obama, the argument was valuable in that it forced the electorate to ask itself what kind of experience is necessary to a president. There is a corollary question that becomes more obvious and urgent with each passing day. It involves not quality of experience, but quality of mind.

On Monday, an editorial in the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader attacked Herman Cain for blowing off an interview with the paper. It seems that after video of Cain stumbling to articulate a position on Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel went viral last week, the candidate instituted a new rule: no video cameras in newspaper interviews.

A spokesman for the Cain campaign said this was because “videos are typically used for television and it’s a newspaper.” But as the editorial noted, videos are used for pretty much everything these days. It suggested Cain’s real problem lay not in the presence of cameras, but in the fact that “newspaper interviews tend to be longer and more in depth” and require answers that go beyond canned sound bites. Cain’s refusal to engage in that sort of rigorous give and take, said the paper, “gives the impression that he’s got something to hide.”

Cain capitulated that same day.