Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obama, Experience, etc

I must admit that every time I hear the word experience, I think of Dungeons and Dragons. I keep expecting someone to talk about how many orcs Obama's killed. So I'll try to avoid using the word experience. I will say, however, that one of the most important facts about Obama is that he spent less than 2 years in the Senate before announcing his candidacy for President and I will try to articulate why I think this matters.

First of all, Obama's short time in the Senate means that he has a very short record. Of course, most freshman Senator's do, but that's why I don't like voting for them as President. This matters to me because I think that a candidate's record is a good indication of what they will do in office. When people campaign they tend to take courageous positions in favor of America, families and puppy-dogs. In other words, their campaign is not a very good way to tell where they stand. Their record in office is harder to gloss over.

McCain, to use the obvious counter-example, has a very long record in the Senate. I don't agree with much of it, and probably no one does, but it let's me make some judgments about McCain. He's a generally conservative guy, who is willing to make some unorthodox calls and willing to take politically dangerous positions because he thinks they're right. I would think here of everything from immigration reform to opposing sending the Marines to Beruit. Obama simply doesn't have much of a record. I do not know of any serious legislative accomplishments that he's done and, for all his much vaunted post-partisanship, I do not know of any time he broke with his party to do something unpopular (not that people should be doing that just for the sake of looking good to independents). This makes it much harder to judge what he will be like in office. In fact, it seems to me that this is part of his appeal. McCain has been involved in so many pieces of legislation over the years that it's easy to find something you don't like. It's harder to do that with Obama and this lets him seem new and fresh. I think this actually helps him and he knows it.

Which brings us nicely to my second point. Many people that I deeply respect see Obama as a new kind of a politician, hope and change we can believe in. I wish I could see that too, and, sometimes, when he is speaking I do. But mostly I see an incredibly ambitious, calculating political mind. Oh, of course any one who runs for President is, including McCain, but there seems like such a deep disconnect between Obama the Philosopher King and Obama the Politician that I sometimes wonder how he can take himself seriously.

Anyway, I suspect this is just one post in a long and fruitful debate, about what experience is, who has it, and whether anyone can win the presidency without resorting to tactics that appall our better sensibilities. So I'll post in that spirit and look forward to continuing later.

1 comment:

Matt said...

This back and forth about experience only exists because it is one of the most easy ways in which the McCain campaign can attack Obama. In the last two presidential cycles, you may have heard a slight variation of these complaints. The story back then said that Gore and Kerry lacked "executive" experience -meaning that Bush had "run" a state whereas they had never run anything. The thinking behind this seemed to be that it's just a small step up from running a state to running the most powerful nation in the world whereas a Senator or Vice President really doesn't know how to do anything but vote and tie his shoes. This is really just a ticky-tack nonsense political argument that is easy to articulate and repeat. Were the roles reversed, I have no doubt that the Democrats would be complaining about McCain's lack of experience, but this makes it no more relevant. If experience running something were really what people were concerned about, the only candidates we'd elect would be people like Mitt Romney, who has certainly shown that he can successfully lead groups of people and succeed in difficult tasks.

Let me put it another way: Does anybody here think that either of the presidential candidates will get to office in January and then realize "oh gosh, I wish I'd taken that class in presidential activities in college" or "if only I was 20 years older, I'd certainly know how to handle this international crisis"? I mean really?

I guess what I'd like (but will not get) is a more nuanced argument about the characteristics that might make a good President. McCain is a "maverick", meaning that he's not afraid to stray from his party to do what he thinks is right. It also means that he hasn't acted as a leader in that party -if he had he wouldn't be a maverick. Obama certainly has organizational skills and is a great orator. He seems to spend a lot of time seriously thinking about issues, but we really don't have a good impression of how that thinking will translate into action.

I've gone on long enough. I just don't like the term "experience" and will leave it at that.