Thursday, September 04, 2008

Experience and Obama

Matt wrote an interesting post a few days ago about Andrew Sullivan and the Obama/Palin experience question that has reared its head full-force this week. I have been bothered by the experience argument against Obama for awhile, so here's a quick download on why this whole thing bothers me. Certainly Barack Obama has a different kind of experience from someone like Joe Biden, John McCain or I dunno... Dick Cheney or Nancy Pelosi as other examples.

Obama has, admittedly not been in the senate for decades, and he has not worked face-to-face with the leaders of foreign nations for decades. He has not run a company, and he hasn't authored, sponsored and passed dozens of pieces of landmark legislation to make significant progress on specific issues over the course of his years in the Senate (but who does in their first few years as a Senator... has anyone produced an example of such accomplishment upon arrival on the Senate floor?). He has not run a beurocratic machine like state, province, nation, etc. These are all valid points.

That said, what bothers me is the (in my opinion) flawed notion that these types of experience are necessary to success as President or having them (or not) is indicative of ones' "readiness" to lead. This line of reasoning, to me, engenders a sense that you need to follow a prescribed path or clear a certain set of hurdles to be ready, able, etc. This pumping up of a path to power or to qualification for leadership seems overblown to me, and I think Sarah Palin and Barack Obama provide an interesting contrast case to help highlight why that is. If anything, the debate that continues to develop since Ms. Palin arrived on the Republican ticket makes this whole experience line even more patently absurd.

I honestly feel like if you look at Ms. Palin's resume you can see some of the specific types of experience commentators have found lacking on Obama's resume, namely tenure in executive office. That said, you can also find things on Obama's resume that are not present on Palins. One post I saw today compared Obama's chairmanship at the Harvard Law Review (first African American to hold this post) to Palin's minor in Political Science at Idaho State. Some might call this comparison elitist, but the fact remains there is a track record of leadership and accomplishment that backs up the rationality behind Democratic excitement, voting and support for their candidate. The guy isn't, as Hillary suggested back when she was still in it, running based on one speech. He's running based on his interest in and pledge to bring together disparate interest groups and to work for change in new and dynamic ways.

Obama has, in the course of his campaign, show his interest in doing just that. He went to Michigan, a state that is considered very much in contention, and he did not cave to the powerful auto industry, instead taking Detroit to task for their resistance to raising fuel efficiency in American cars and their laconic approach to competition. He went after his own party, challenging them to embrace religious groups and evangelicals as possible allies on issues like poverty, AIDS, and rebuilding our inner cities turning aside years of capitulation to the idea that these groups will always vote Republican no matter what. He pushed for his campaign to have a 50-state grass-roots foundation, and has taken many steps to continue relying on this connection to real supportors and their issues all along the way.

While I absolutely agree with Matt that a good campaigner does not necessarily a good leader make, I think these are three fine examples where you can see the mark of a leader interested in building a movement. This is a guy who doesn't, as the right wing might suggest, simply care about talking pretty. He cares about setting up his campaign and an energizing machine that will push forward towards a new day of progress. Now I am clearly in the tank, plain and simple. I can't deny it, and I wouldn't want to, but that said, I think there is a flawed simplicity to the argument about experience, and while I'm not sure I've fully exposed what bothers me about that, I hope I've provided enough to spark some discussion or response from various quarters. Please, please, please let me know what you think.


Stamford Talk said...

Well, first of all, I think you are an excellent writer.

And I like that your posts, esp. this one, are well thought out and considered.

Um yeah I basically agree with everything that you said. I'm just irrational when it comes to Obama. I just think he has to be president, and that's it.

Speaking of Palin vs. Obama's experience (why are we comparing the Pres to the VP again? are we assuming McCain's going to kick the bucket? how morbid), this
article "Community Organizers Are Jokes, Republicans Say" annoyed me. The Repubs are so arrogant.

Politics pretty much makes me sick. However, I'm very much into this election, not bc Obama might be the first Af-Am president, but bc his memoir really impressed me and I think he'll be a remarkable Pres.

Venice said...

An excellent post and one that deserves a more-thoughtful response than I can offer at the moment! Will work on one as I drink coffee

Corinne said...

i've been thinking about this too since matt's post. part of what bothers me about palin is the fact that she didn't have to run a crazy campaign over the last year and a half to get people to like her. at least i feel comfortable saying that i know obama at this point. he (okay, his campaign, whatever) sends me daily emails!

the foreign policy thing... i read that palin just got her passport for the first time last year. compare that to someone who went on a world tour before becoming president and was sitting with other world leaders looking... very presidential. that doesn't mean that makes him fit to make foreign policy decisions, but at least it would put a better face on the US.

anyway, i couldn't watch the whole speech last night - i had to turn the tv off after palin's comment about community organizers. ugh.

i'm getting very impatient about this election - i just want it over with. i'm hoping for a landslide and to be saying in a few months "i can't believe i was so worried..."

Corinne said...

oh and also i agree with everyone else who said this was a great post.

one more thing: how is it that people manage to turn obama's ridiculous gift of public speaking into a negative attribute... "oh yeah... he gives good speeches... but can he actually LEAD?"

i just got around to watching michele obama's speech the other day. i'm ready to vote for her as president. she's AMAZING.