I'm not as disturbed as most Americans are that George W. Bush did not know in a quiz who is in charge of Pakistan, India and Chechnya. While most of us learned this in public school, Bush was just out driving around and having a good time.
But there is nothing in the Constitution that says the president has to know who the leaders of those three places are. The reason is that presidential ignorance is not as big a problem as some people think. If you become president, you can hire people to tell you the names of the leaders of any country in the world.
Do you think President Clinton knows who is in charge of Chechnya? Not by a long shot. It doesn't matter. He is only a telephone call away from his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who has the name of every head of state in her Rolodex.
Some think that Bush had prepared himself for an interview on a Boston television show by learning the leaders of Uganda, Tanzania and Yemen. He had their names written on the cuff of his shirt, but he was thrown a curve by the Pakistan and India question.
It is true that Pakistan and India are constantly changing governments, and even people who appear on "Jeopardy!" can't keep them straight. In Pakistan the rule of thumb is that as soon as you make general, you can take over the country.
Now Gov. Bush has to live with his ignorance during the entire campaign.
To make things fairer, I propose that anyone running for president be required to know only the names of three prime ministers of countries of his choosing. While most would choose Great Britain, France and Monaco, the candidates who know the big shots from the Third World nations would be considered by the electorate to be much more qualified to run our foreign affairs.
Politics is a dirty business, and you have no idea what you're going to be asked when you go on TV. If you blow it, the press, which has nothing better to write about, will jump on you.
Not knowing the leader of Chechnya is unforgivable, and yet 40 percent of our fourth-graders are just as ignorant.
What Mr. Bush has to do is rewrite his briefing book.
When an interviewer asks, "Who is the president of Ireland?" his response would be, "I can't tell you that, but I can tell you who the leader of Taiwan is. It's Lee Teng-hui."
"You have just won $200. Would you like to go for $1,000?"
"Yes, I'll try education."
"How do you feel about prayer in school?"
"Now one more question. If elected, who would you appoint as the chairman of the Federal Reserve board?"
In conclusion, every presidential candidate has an Achilles' heel. Bush can get his Chechnya indiscretion behind him only if he asks the American people's forgiveness.
(C) 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate