Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 12, 2008
POLITICS: Yes, Experience Matters

Does Barack Obama's inexperience matter - and should it?

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Who ya gonna call?

I. Experience Matters In The Presidency

The presidency is an enormous, complex and dangerous job. The president's first and foremost responsibility is as the Commander-in-Chief, with responsibility for reacting, sometimes without time to exhaustively gather and sift the best possible information and explore all the alternatives, and with the need at times to rally the nation to do difficult and painful things. The president is also the head of the vast, sprawling executive branch, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the head of his or her party, the appointer of life-tenured federal judges and scores of influential bureaucrats, the submitter of budgets and proposer of legislation. No president comes to the job fully prepared for all its demands. But the more of those demands the president comes truly unprepared for, the more difficulty he or she will have in mastering them all at once.

While there are a variety of life experiences that are useful for a president to have, to my mind there are five types of experience that are particularly important:

1. Executive experience: The presidency is fundamentally an executive job: most of the things the president does are carried out by giving orders to other people, and usually through several layers of other people. A successful executive needs to know who to appoint, how to supervise them, how to delegate authority and set priorities. Jimmy Carter, for example, though he had served as a Governor, was famously unable to let go of insignificant details, all the way down to micromanaging the use of the White House tennis courts. The public and private sectors alike are strewn with cautionary examples of the difficulty of mastering these tasks in organizations far less massive and diverse than the Executive Branch of the federal government. A president who has never been an executive of any kind - like all three of this year's remaining presidential contenders (the closest any of them comes is McCain's tenure commanding a squadron in the Navy) - faces a daunting task in learning these skills from scratch.

2. Experience with national security and foreign policy: In some areas of national policy, it's possible - even necessary - for a new president to study up on issues and confront them for the first time. But trouble in foreign affairs comes hard and fast, and the president needs to understand on an instinctual level the array of military and non-military options at his or her disposal in any given situation, as well as the many ways in which a particular decision can affect the situation. Military and defense policy in particular can be bewildering and perilous for a beginner who has never encountered it before, given that so many things the military does are so different from how civilian life works.

3. Political experience: If a lot of the president's job requires managing the Executive Branch, another large component - including the ability to keep the Executive Branch in line - is the ability to marshal and sustain political support, both among Congress and the public, including understanding how to build coalitions and how to deal with the media. Of course, the experience of winning a national election gets any president a leg up in this department, but long experience in politics, especially experience of political leadership and experience in coming back from political setbacks, is important training in this area.

4. Military/combat service: As I said above, understanding defense policy from the top down can be a great challenge, but it undoubtedly helps as well to understand it from the ground up. And since the president's most solemn job is to commit forces to combat, experience in combat is not just a campaign slogan; it is, in fact, an important and useful experience to bear always in mind.

5. Private sector experience: Government exists to serve the people, and what Washington does affects private business and private lives in myriad ways that are unanticipated by policymakers inside the Beltway. Having had the responsibility to live off a private sector paycheck and/or manage a private sector business gives the president irreplaceable insights into the end results of his or her actions.

Now, as important as they are, no one of these experiences is essential; you can cite successful presidents who lacked experience in each of these areas, and campaigns have gone off the rails before by trying to make out one of these as a litmus test. But you'd have a hard time locating someone who was even a credible candidate, let alone a successful president, who was basically lacking in all five; the closest would be the singular exception of Abraham Lincoln, who was truly a unique figure, but even Lincoln had made a living in the private sector as an attorney, storekeeper and railsplitter and had some military command experience as a captain in the Black Hawk War. In each case, he ranks ahead of Obama. And Obama is no Abraham Lincoln.

Let's consider two illustrative examples. You may remember the presidency of George H.W. Bush. GHW Bush may well have been the first presidential candidate since George Washington who could really lay claim to all five types of experience: by 1988, he'd been a two-term Vice President, a presidential candidate, a Congressman, a Senate candidate, chairman of the Republican National Committee at the party's historic low ebb, UN Ambassador, CIA Director, ambassador to China, a combat pilot, and a successful oilman.

Bush is a strong example of the benefits of experience. GHW Bush was not a man of great political gifts, nor did he have what he called "the vision thing." But he knew what he was doing. He held afternoon press conferences so frequently they became non-events, ending the prime time game of Sam Donaldson & co. trying to play gotcha with the president. He ran one of the cleanest Administrations, scandal-wise, in memory. His Administration mopped up the S&L mess, and his Treasury Department handled the workout of Latin American debt with aplomb. In foreign affairs, his long years of experience and contacts around the globe paid off time and again, as he faced down Manuel Noriega in Panama and assembled a massive coalition to roll back Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait; as significant as the things that happened were the things that didn't, as delicate diplomacy helped smooth the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany and the flowering of democracy on the ashes of tyranny around the globe.

GHW Bush was not, in the main, a successful president, due among other things to his lack of firm political convictions and poor communications skills. But that's just a way of saying that experience alone isn't everything. It is nonetheless true that his experience was an important asset that he relied upon time and again in office.

Consider a contrast: John F. Kennedy. Kennedy and the wildly unsuccessful Warren G. Harding are the only two sitting Senators elected to the White House, neither of them nearly as long-serving as John McCain, but both longer-serving in the Senate than Obama. Kennedy was not as inexperienced as perhaps you might think - in addition to being a combat veteran, he'd been a Congressman for six years and a Senator for eight. But he was relatively young, much of his Senate tenure had been spent in a hospital bed due to back trouble, and he'd never run anything larger than a PT Boat. And the opening of Kennedy's presidency underlined the hazards of being green. He pulled the air support from the Bay of Pigs invasion, after his predecessor had insisted upon it, leading to a humiliating setback that left Cuba in Communist hands to this day; a more experienced leader would have been secure enough to know that whatever you do, you don't mess with an amphibious invasion plan approved by Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy subsequently impressed Khruschev, in their first meeting, as weak. While Kennedy in some ways had sound instincts on foreign policy, that 1-2 punch at the outset of his tenure provoked repeated challenges by the Communist bloc - Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly led to nuclear war, Vietnam (some historians speculate that Kennedy felt compelled to take a more hawkish stance towards Vietnam because of the earlier setbacks). As we saw with the Chinese spy-place incident in 2001 and Mogadishu in 1993, foreign troublemakers are always willing to put a new president to the test; Kennedy's inexperience contributed to him failing those early tests, with dangerously escalating results in the years that followed. Obama will be a similar standing invitation, especially taking office while the nation is still prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and crises in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela.

Former Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows, writing in 1979, aptly described how Carter's leap from the small-time to the big leagues of national politics left him unprepared for the demands of the job:

If his secure position and effortless supremacy in Plains had made Carter calmer than Nixon or Kennedy, it seemed also to have given him too high an estimation of his own gifts. It would have helped him to have spent a little while in a law firm in Boston, or with a movie company in Los Angeles, or as a broker in New York, to acquire that edge of neurosis and compulsion to get the best ideas out of the people on his staff. That Jimmy Carter would have been a less pleasant person; a different background might have denied him the very traits that are now his greatest strength. But it might also have made new ideas seem crucial to him; it would not have left him satisfied, as the real Jimmy Carter too often is, with what burbles up in the usual bureaucratic fashion and with the people who happen to come to hand. In Plains, he had run the business himself, relied entirely upon himself. He did not need to search constantly for people to push and test him, because his unpushed abilities were good enough.

II. Experience Matters To Voters

Experience doesn't only matter because it tests and teaches potential Presidents how to do the job. It also matters because experience reveals things that the voters need to evaluate in a candidate. A candidate who has faced the kinds of tests the presidency offers - management in crisis, adversity in wartime, sustained political leadership, job creation - can be evaluated more easily by voters than one who has only talked about those tests. This is a point that can't be emphasized enough, and at the end of the day it explains why the private lives, personalities and personal history of some candidates - Obama, Romney, Edwards, Bush in 2000, Hart in 1984 & 1988 - are and should be subjected to more minute scrutiny than better-known quantities like McCain, or Dole in 1996, or Mondale in 1984, or Reagan. We already have a wealth of evidence, from his quarter century in the Navy, quarter century in Congress, two presidential campaigns and innumerable appearances on national television, of how John McCain reacts to crises and setbacks, how he approaches tough political decisions, how he answers hard questions, how firmly he will stand for what he believes in, what things he will compromise on, when he will be a loyal party man and when he will go out of his way to go his own way. You may like what you see in McCain's long record or you may not, but very few people are left with much doubt about what kind of man McCain is or how he would approach tough decisions.

Barack Obama, with little experience to reveal his character, his abilities, and his judgment and fewer accomplishments, is explicitly running on a platform that he has the "Judgment to Lead":

When McCain talks about judgment, we can test the proof in the pudding. But when Obama says it, how do we know that, other than that Obama says so? He points to his decision to oppose the war in Iraq, and indeed to some extent his talk of "judgment" has just been code for that one position, but even on the Iraq War, Obama had the most minimal responsibility: he did little beyond giving a single speech to a local crowd of like-minded constituents, and was by far less influential in the debate than scores of bloggers, let alone members of the federal government. He didn't even have the burden of confronting the facts - it's significant that the anti-war faction has chosen as its most prominent spokesmen Howard Dean and Obama, who share in common the fact that neither had access to classified intelligence at the time. Obama offers judgment unencumbered by either responsibility or complete information. And beyond Iraq, there's little enough in the file.

So what do we get instead? As voters we're stuck reading tea leaves, looking at who he chooses for his friends, mentors and advisers, poring over his and their every utterance, excavating obscure chapters in his life. Because what we are looking for is some substitute for what we could otherwise glean from his experience.

III. The Role of Advocacy In Politics

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Despite the obvious relevance of experience, Lyford - is concerned that "table-pounding partisans" may come off as disingenuous in addressing this issue:

One of the things that I've resisted doing is criticizing Barack Obama for, in Ronald Reagan's words, "youth and inexperience." Clearly, he has nowhere near the track record or experience that one would like to see in the President of the United States. He's been in the US Senate for less than one full term and he's never held any kind of executive position. Any arguments that he's too inexperienced and callow to be elected are legitimate.

But if I were to make them, it would be a lie. It would be to imply that, if only he weren't so young and inexperienced, I might vote for him. And the fact is, based on his entire career, the people he's chosen to align himself with and his voting record, there are no realistic circumstances under which I would ever vote for him.

Not to pick on Lyford, but he's crystallized a common theme here and one worth dispelling, because he's missing a key point about how we make decisions in a democracy - not only does it matter very much that Obama lacks the experience to do the job, but it's very much the job of those of us with strong partisan or ideological attachments to point that out.

The initial misconception here is about the role of partisans - bloggers, pundits, and political professionals who are loyal to one party or whose strong political convictions naturally ally them with one party - in election campaigns. Now, to some extent this is my training as a lawyer talking, but our political system, like our legal system, is adversarial by nature; in the ordinary case, it depends on the partisans of each side to keep the other side honest and marshal the best possible arguments against the other. While there are, of course, exceptions, it's generally true that (a) most political commentary and a lot of the legwork behind it is produced by people with an agenda and (b) most undecided/persuadable voters are less well-informed than the typical partisan commentator. Thus, the partisan commentator's role in providing the best arguments for his or her side is an important and honorable one, without which the system would not work nearly as well.* That's not to deny that there are, just as in the legal system, an enormous number of unprincipled hacks in the field, or that a lot of what you hear can be mind-bendingly hypocritical. In fact, you should always consider the source in any political argument. But the point is that criticism from a position of ideological or partisan commitment is a perfectly respectable way of laying out the things undecided voters need to make up their minds.

Let's use an analogy here. Now, like Lyford, when I look at Obama's view of foreign and national security policy, and his positions on social issues and the kinds of people that would lead him to put on the courts, there's more than enough there to convince me that I could never in good conscience vote for the guy. But does that mean I am indifferent to the fact that Obama is also running on a platform of enormous tax hikes? Of course not; that's another reason to oppose him even if there's already enough reasons to make my mind up. And there's nothing disingenuous about me making the point about Obama's tax-hiking plans to someone who may not have already been decided by his foreign-policy and social-issue views.

Of course, for my own part, I've always put a premium on experience in presidential races even within the GOP, on the theory that ideas don't run for president, people do. In 2000, we had to balance McCain's superior foreign policy, Washington and military experience against Bush's executive experience (six years as a large-state governor after an up-and-down career as a business executive). I valued both, but preferred McCain. This time around I backed Rudy in large part because of his executive experience, applied tougher scrutiny to Fred as a campaigner because of his lack of executive experience, and based my opposition to Romney in large part on his lack of political and foreign policy experience after just a single term in office. And indeed, GOP voters in general have long had a strong preference for experienced candidates. It's the Democrats who often seem to be chasing the New, New Thing, the Next JFK.

IV. Hypocrisy And The Legacy of "Gotcha" Politics

One of the reasons why people take it as somehow hypcritical to criticize Obama's inexperience is the malignant effects of "gotcha" politics. Let me explain. Lots of what goes on in political discourse is about criticizing a politician for doing X. Maybe X is "cheating on his wife" or "experimenting with cocaine" or "cheating on his taxes"; maybe it's "voting for tax hikes" or "supporting the Iraq War." Frankly, if you are trying to bring down a public official or defeat a candidate, it can be tempting to look for the magic bullet that singlehandedly removes him or her from the field. And sometimes, people will go out on a limb to argue in depth that "doing X means you must resign/be voted down/be impeached/be indicted," etc.

There are fair arguments about what things are bad enough that they should be grounds for singlehandedly and categorically disqualifying someone from public office or from receiving your vote. But the problem is that the political commentariat seems to have grown too enamored with the idea that pretty much any basis for criticizing a politician must be (1) grounds for total disqualification or (2) utterly irrelevant. Some high points of this mania include disqualifying Douglas Ginsburg from the Supreme Court for smoking pot and Zoe Baird and Linda Chavez from Cabinet posts for not paying nanny taxes and, in Chavez' case, hiring an illegal immigrant. (Of course, the Clinton impeachment was a field day for these sorts of arguments, which I won't revisit here because, really, this post is already long enough).

The "gotcha" attitude with Obama is to argue that his lack of executive experince isn't a big deal because McCain doesn't have it, lack of foreign policy experience isn't a big deal because Bush didn't have it, etc. As I noted above, taken individually, these are valid points. The perilous logical leap is when his defenders argue that since these weaknesses are not disabling individually, they must not be at all relevant even taken collectively. And if one must speak of hypocrisy, it is rather amusing that we heard Democrats the past few years arguing that various Bush appointees were underqualified hacks who lacked the basic qualifications for their jobs (e.g., Miers, Mike Brown), but those same Democrats who were outraged at appointing unqualified people to mid-level jobs in the Administration are suddenly unconcerned about picking a guy without adequate experience for the top job, the guy who appoints all the others.

But for the same reasons why I rejected that style of argument when I came out in opposition to Harriet Miers (here and here) and Mitt Romney, Obama's lack of all the relevant types of experience, taken together, are very much a problem and quite arguably disqualifying by themselves, or at least very substantial reasons to be skeptical of his candidacy. Assuming he does hang on to squeeze Hillary out of the race, Obama is the emptiest vessel ever to get a major party nomination, a man who can't be judged on the results he has achieved because he's scarcely left a trace of results anywhere. It's all too easy to say "yes, we can" when you haven't ever had to be the guy people look to to say "yes we did."

He's never run anything at all, not even a small law practice like John Edwards. Besides his campaign, probably the biggest thing he's ever run was the Harvard Law Review.

He has nothing resembling national security experience or even particularly sustained advocacy on the issue before announcing his candidacy in 2007. The man has apparently hardly even traveled to Europe, to pick one example.

He is running in a contested election outside the insular world of Chicago politics for the first time and has never had any sort of responsibility for political leadership.

He's never served in the military and seems to have scarcely any experience even knowing people who served in the military.

His private-sector business background is negligible.

Are any of these things disqualifying from the Presidency? No. But electing a man who is so seriously lacking in all of them is indeed unprecedented. And that is and should be a central issue in this campaign.

* - A whole separate subject, of course, is the partisan commentator's obligations of ethics and intellectual honesty - what arguments are unfair ones, when you really ought to open fire on your own side, etc. But that's beyond the scope of this post, the point of which is simply that those of us who look at these things from one side or the other can and should still make arguments about things like a candidate's experience.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:59 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (50) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Interesting take (Bush distortions and fawning/false platitudes aside). Ever think we got to this point due to setting the bar SO incredibly low with the current resident of the White House?

Posted by: jim at May 12, 2008 2:14 PM

Well, I personally am more apt to blame the confluence of (1) the Democrats' residual JFK/RFK obsession (2) identity politics and (3) the fact that experience isn't really the long suit of Hillary or Edwards, either. Certainly the Republicans went with the most grizzled candidate on offer. But it may be that some Democratic primary voters felt that Bush was in some ways the less experienced candidate in 2000 and 2004 and that this showed that experience doesn't matter.

Posted by: The Crank at May 12, 2008 2:19 PM

No, I meant in the sense of "if W can be President, any fool can."

Posted by: jim at May 12, 2008 2:34 PM

"if W can be President, any fool can."

Jim,

Your last name wouldn't be Carter, would it?

Posted by: Phils57 at May 12, 2008 3:49 PM

"GOP voters in general have long had a strong preference for experienced candidates. "It's the Democrats who often seem to be chasing the New, New Thing, the Next JFK."

How do you figure? Looking at the democratic nominees after Kennedy:

Lyndon Johnson
McGovern
Carter
Mondale
Dukakis
Clinton
Kerry
Gore

To varying degrees, these candidates all had a great deal of experience, and none would be a "Kennedy-type" candidate in my view.

The bottom line: Democratic voters aren't too much different than Republican ones. They want experienced leaders that represent their interests. Your criteria for evaluating presidental candidates is reasonable, but I'm not buying the partisan argument.


Posted by: MVH at May 12, 2008 4:39 PM

Who let the dillweed out? Jim, your jar of pickles is looking for you!

Posted by: Simonsez at May 12, 2008 4:40 PM

Crank, I do appreciate the time and effort you put into these essays, but you have only confirmed that GWB was not qualified to be president, either, based on his lack of experience doing anything important. His performance over the last 8 years only confirms that.

Let's face it: if you like a candidate, you'll vote for him whatever his experience, particularly if you hate the other guy. The president does not make decisions in a vacuum; he has advisors who help him out. It's not just one guy sitting in the Oval Office wondering what to do in a crisis situation.

Posted by: steve at May 12, 2008 4:43 PM

My point proved, after Nixon and Ford people were pretty much happy with anyone that was not those two or associated with those two. Your W worship in the face of his catostrophic reign does nothing to help the promotion of people who are the "best", "most-qualified" or "most-experienced" candidates to follow him. Most people believe Bush is doing a truly crappy job and a large percentage believe he is a dolt. Just because you are out of touch and love Bush like he's your crazy uncle doesn't change the fact of the matter.

Posted by: jim at May 12, 2008 4:46 PM

Obama doesn't even know that Canada, America's largest trading partner with whom it shares a continent and the longest undefended border in the world, has a prime minister, not a president, as its commander-in-chief. However, if he does try to re-negotiate NAFTA with Stephen Harper, the current prime minister, O will find his vapid approach to solving problems totally unworkable as Harper is a guy who takes no prisoners,

Posted by: violet at May 12, 2008 5:01 PM

You make a compelling argument, with logical conclusions.

Sadly, the likely democratic nominee is not where he is by logic, so is invulnerable to it. This milli vanilli poser is going to get many people hurt

Posted by: bill at May 12, 2008 5:01 PM

"...his lack of experience doing anything important."

Being governor of Texas is nothing important???

Posted by: Craig at May 12, 2008 5:09 PM

Obama is naive.
And Charlie Pierce totally calls him out on it:
http://www.esquire.com/features/barack-obama-0608

Reading it should be mandatory for anyone who thinks they are politically serious.
The US is a representative democracy, and the current dolt in chief and his evil sidekick represent the people of the nation perfectly.

Posted by: Robert in BA at May 12, 2008 5:12 PM

violet,

Are you suggesting that Canada will invade the US/take it over if Obama (if elected) dares to mess with the current PM? Is John Candy involved in some manner?

Posted by: jim at May 12, 2008 5:24 PM

Your point is far from proved, Jim. Belief is often divorced from reality; I believe I could have been a great pro hockey player. The reality is that I never came close.

It's interesting though that, instead of making a case for Obama, you attack the incumbent. I think that says more about you than it does about the president.

BTW, Violet - Canada's equivalent of CinC is the Governor General, not the Prime Minister. Your point is otherwise entirely valid.

Posted by: Chris at May 12, 2008 5:44 PM

What's important to voters wrt Experience matters changes with time.

During the post-Cold War "End of History" era, Clinton's superior experience with economic matters as a Governor trumped GWHB. During the 2000 Campaign, GWB's Texas Governor experience, and low-tax experience, trumped Al Gore's Washington insider experience.

Kerry vs. Bush? Kerry was a long-time Washington insider, who undermined his experience with his 1970's clips of "Raped and Pillaged" which absent he probably would have beaten Bush. That clip cemented his image among swing voters as weak and part of the "Democrat Hate/Blame America" which was fatal in an era of unending terrorist threats aimed at America's heartland.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at May 12, 2008 5:49 PM

Chris,

Do you read these posts? If so, you must not understand them. My point was that you end up with lesser candidates when the current office holder is so bad, so ill-equipped to do the job that simply removing him and putting in anyone else will suffice. That is where we are at. Lots and lots of people are for HRC or BO because they can't stand the thought of the W legacy and policies being carried on by McCain. When you set the bar on the ground (or dig a trough for it and set it in there) it is really easy for others to step over.

Posted by: jim at May 12, 2008 5:58 PM

Well, he does have 20 years experience of listening to Rev Wright's sermons on Black Liberation Theology!! Not to mention the same amount of time in Chicago politics.

Posted by: JimK at May 12, 2008 6:18 PM

Jim, I read the posts just fine, thank you. If that was your point, you sure spent more time throwing insults than making it. Here's part of what you posted (just in case you didn't read it);

"Most people believe Bush is doing a truly crappy job and a large percentage believe he is a dolt."

My point was twofold;
1) belief is by definition not a statement of fact, and
2) GWB is not the issue - Obama's lack of experience is. You chose to distract from the latter by making an argument against the former.

As for Bush's legacy; do you think it begins and ends with Iraq? How come you pot-bangers have never even heard of the Proliferation Security Initiative? Oh right, because it doesn't involve war-making, it's multi-lateral, and it's been highly successful - don't want to talk about that.

When is Obama bringing the troops home, btw? His answer keeps changing on that question.

Posted by: Chris at May 12, 2008 6:45 PM

Get a grip on yourself, Jim. And when you do, tell us whether - and why - Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton is best qualified to be the president of the US of A. Then, tell us whether - and why - your chosen candidate or John McCain is best qualified to be the president of the US of A.

Posted by: Bob at May 12, 2008 6:48 PM

Rated on scale of 5 to 10, with 10 being fully qualified.

Executive experience:
Obama – 5 – Some community activism; running a Senate office for three years.
McCain – 7—Commanding a squadron in the Navy; running a Senate office for 20 odd years.

Experience with national security and foreign policy:
Obama – 8 - Knowledge of foreign countries should consist of more than knowing how to invade them and blow them up. Obama will, in many ways, bring to the White House the broadest international experience of any of our presidents. His father was born in Kenya and he spent four years growing up in Indonesia. Obama will understand the world consists of more than the United States; other countries, especially in Africa, Asia, and the middle east, could see our country in a whole new light – as a more open and understanding country.

McCain – 8 – As a military man from a military family, John McCain certainly understands America’s role in the world and how we can best use our power to protect our interests.

Political experience
Obama – 9 -- As slayer of the Clinton’s – Obama should have earned everyone’s respect by now as a politician of the highest caliber. The first time the Rev Wright surfaced, Obama used the opportunity to deliver a speech on race in America that was positively received by almost everybody. The second coming of Wright may have dinged him – barely. But the guy’s been generally unshakable through a grueling 18 mos of campaigning.

McCain – 8.5 -- If he was a nine he would have won in 2000.

Military/combat service:
Obama – 5
McCain – 10 -- No comparison. McCain gets all the points in this category. And one of the many painful lessons we’ve learned from the current president’s shortcomings is the importance of this category. No combat veteran would have allowed the debacle in Iraq to continue so aimlessly for the last 5+ years.

Private sector experience
Obama – 6 -- I give Obama the nod only because of his youth and lack of tenure in the Senate.
McCain – 5 -- After picking up a government paycheck for forty odd years – you have to wonder if McCain has any clue how a 21st century economy works.

**

Under Crank's categories, I rate the contest a push, but still look forward to pulling the lever for Obama (as will most of the country).

The Bush administration's putrid combination of arrogance and imcompetence leaves the 72 year-old Johnny Mack with too steep of an uphill struggle against Mr. Excitement.

Posted by: Patrick at May 12, 2008 10:08 PM

Hey Craig,

In fact, being Governor of Texas is nothing important. It is largley a figurehead position, perfect for an empty suit like W. I thought it was, um, interesting that Crank chose that bush to analyze.

I respect the view of those who beleive that Obama is "too liberal;" i.e., they disagree with him on policy grounds. But, with all due respect to Crank, Nixon fits the criteria better than most and he was a disaster.

The fact is that we can't know what will be the paramount issues a president will face. the world is too complex. Give me intelligence, character and temperament any day, and I'll take my chances. Bush failed all three. In my view, Obama passes all three. McCain? So far, character only.

Posted by: Magrooder at May 12, 2008 10:23 PM

Actually, Bush accomplished quite a bit of his agenda as Governor of Texas, and the fact that he did so with relatively few formal levers of authority is a testimony to his political skills.

Posted by: The Crank at May 12, 2008 11:29 PM

Patrick,

That is nonsense. "Rated on scale of 5 to 10, with 10 being fully qualified." This isn't a test where you get five points for getting your name right on a test.

Here are the ratings re-calibrated for reality.

Executive experience:
Obama – 1
McCain – 3

Experience with national security and foreign policy:
Obama – 1 - "His father was born in Kenya." What? Who cares? My daddy ran a machine shop for forty years. Think that makes me able to operate a lathe?

McCain – 7

Political experience
Obama – 4 -State senator for a few years. Then senator for a couple mainly because main opponent (Ryan) dropped out and goofy Alan Keyes wandered into Illinois to be a sacrificial lamb. Zero political accomplishments.

McCain – 7

Military/combat service:
Obama – 0
McCain – 9 -

Private sector experience
Obama – 4 -.
McCain – 0

**
Neither candidate is ideal. However, it is ridiculous to start both with 5 in every category. Obama starts with a 5 in military experience???

Posted by: largebill at May 12, 2008 11:52 PM

Remember, largebill, this is the same party where then winner of a primary gets basically the same number of delegates as the loser. They may as well just hand out "Participant" ribbons. So that kind of grade inflation is par for the course.

Posted by: The Crank at May 13, 2008 12:20 AM

Chris,

They're called polls. I did not invent them. By all accounts Bush's ratings are an all-time low. Not my belief, just how it is. I do believe he is doing an amazingly poor job and a dis-service to this country. Again, my point is that Bush is so dreadful that people will see past other candidate's faults because Bush is so bad that we all end up for the poorer. I think all 3 of these candidates have unique weaknesses. I just don't want 4 more years which is what GOP Inc offers so either Dem. Candidate is far superior.

Posted by: jim at May 13, 2008 12:39 AM

Barak Obama asserts that "judgment" (his), rather than "experience" (his lack thereof) should be the criterion by which we determine his fitness for office. Do any of you agree with this? If so, why? If not, why? Think about the future - the potential opportunities and the real threats - that a President BO or HC or JM will face. Of the three, who is best qualified to achieve the most and manage the worst? And, again, why or why not? (And, please, no more references to GBW or any other president.)

Posted by: Bob at May 13, 2008 8:37 AM

I don't think its a matter of judgment and experience alone - it also a matter of policies. And it not very helpful to view a candidate's judgment and experience in isolation from their policies.

The ability to "get things done", for example, only matters if you agree with what the candidate wants to get done. Let's put it this way, would it matter to Republicans if Hillary had years of experience as an executive and exercised sound judgment if she wanted to use those skills to establish universal health care? Of course not. Discussing "who is best qualified to achieve the most and manage the worst" is, to a large degree, begging the question.

Posted by: MVH at May 13, 2008 9:37 AM

Jim,

Pres. Bush isn't running. And you're begging the question by assuming that Sen. McCain is a proxy for Pres. Bush.

I know you REALLY want vindication via a popular vote for your belief that the President is teh suxxor, but that ship sailed in 2004.

You're candidate's merits should be judged against their competitor, not some platonic ideal of an enemy.

To put it another way, if McCain wins in November, do you think that indicates a popular ratification of President Bush's tenure?

Posted by: pmm at May 13, 2008 10:10 AM

Jim,

I know what they're called but since you're obviously not understanding what I thought was a simple concept - let me spell it out for you. Polls (i.e. indicators of something we call "opinion") are not proof of anything. The majority of people can believe anything they want but that doesn't make it true.

Let me put it this way - an awful lot of people believe in God; does that constitute proof of the existence of a Deity? According to you, it does. But, ooops, an awful lot of people don't believe in Him, so I guess that's proof that he doesn't exist....

So, again, just because a lot of people believe that GWB is a dolt ("dolt" - is that the word used in the poll you're referencing?) doesn't make him one. In fact, the circumstantial evidence runs counter to that belief.

Yes, his approval ratings are low but so what? There has been undeniable and unprecendented economic growth in the country since 2002 and yet a lot of people think that the Bush economy was the worth since the depression. This tells me that opinion polls are only useful for illustrating how ignorant most poll respondants are.

Posted by: Chris at May 13, 2008 10:20 AM

Jim,

You're a silly person. The whole debate is about Barack Obama and the current election. Stop trying to bring everything back to Bush.

"Do you read these posts? If so, you must not understand them. My point was that you end up with lesser candidates when the current office holder is so bad, so ill-equipped to do the job that simply removing him and putting in anyone else will suffice. That is where we are at."

You're kidding. So you're defense of Obama as a candidate is essentially: It is Bush's fault that Obama is a weak, inexperienced candidate, because Bush was so bad that now weak, inexperienced candidates can win nominations. You gotta be kidding me.

To me Kerry's campaign was essentially "I know I'm not that great, but hey I'm not Bush." I don't remember talking to anyone who was really excited about him as a candidate. People were simply so full of Bush-hatred that they would have voted for a donkey or a frog so long as it did not hail from the state of Texas. This is a failed strategy, which you seem to be going back to by laying the blame for Obama's experience at Bush's feet. Let's say Obama wins and makes a mess of things - will that be Bush's fault for not "setting the bar higher" and thus allowing the Democrats to pick a qualified candidate?

Posted by: Dick Tangfield at May 13, 2008 10:55 AM

I think this comment thread is more proof of bush derangement syndrome. What are y'all going to do when you don't have Dubya to kick around anymore? It's amazing to be the party in power rather than just the opposition party that can complain and whine all of the time.

Let's stay on target. What has Obama done, or what does he exhibit, that makes people think he will be a good president? The Crank answered this question with a great post.

Obama is an unknown quantity in any role besides public speeches, media love sessions, and campaigning for president. I find it interesting that opinion poll trends show that the more people are exposed to him, the less favorable they view him. I would hate to see the netroots and the kiddies deal with a prez that promised a pullout of Iraq and didn't deliver or the independent voters 4 years from now react to a prez that promised post-partisan politics only to not work with the GOP on anything and only create more polarization. Obama is setting himself up for easy targeting in 4 years if he does not deliver.

Posted by: son of brock landers at May 13, 2008 11:15 AM

We'll kick around those who enabled him, those who supported him and his policies to the detriment of the citizenry, those who sold this nation and its people out because Bush was the captain of their "team".

And Chris is right about "opinions". We got into the Iraq debacle because those who sought economic gain by war (the war profiteers connected to the Bush Administration) convinced the American people that Iraq and Saddam were a threat to America. If only the American citizenry (and media, and those who sided with Bush because he was the captain of "their team") had demanded proof of these accusations, we would have noted lack of the same.

Posted by: Robert in BA at May 13, 2008 1:16 PM

Added to above comment:
Just because "even Bill Clinton" thought Saddam was a threat to America, it doesn't mean it was true.

Let's try not to fall for the same lines of BS about Iran, no matter what "anonymous Administration insiders" say. (That means we should put ZERO stock in what Michael Gordon of the New York times "reports").

Posted by: Robert in BA at May 13, 2008 1:48 PM

I swear you people don't read these posts and simply just write whatever comes to mind. I have not defended Obama or Clinton on this string at all. Not once. I have not given money to either candidate, worked for them or voted for them. I'm not even a registered Democrat so I can't vote for them (primary is still up-coming for what good that is worth at this point). I am not here to opine about Obama, praise him or point out what he has going for him. I have no intention of doing so now or in the future so you can stop asking me to do so.

If y'all don't think that there are a VAST number of people out there who don't give a shit who the Democratic nominee so long as they can prevent McCain from creating another 4 years, minimum, of many to most of the same policies, positions and circumstances of the past 7 years than you are completely out of touch with reality. If you don't believe that this view of the political landscape does not engender a situation in which candidates who are perhaps less than well-suited to become President of this country end up being the only viable contestants you are also kidding yourself.

From what I can tell from a few months back the OVERWHELMING number of GOP voters on this board would have rather had their fingers crushed in a car door than pull the lever for McCain. But you will all (or mostly) go and vote for him. Why? Not because he's your ideal candidate. He's not and you know it. It's because it's what your team decided to go with and you figure, what the hell, at least he's of the party so even if he has some crazy-ass ideas that we hate the party, his advisors, cabinet, etc. will end up driving the policy bus for the most part anyway. And that's good enough.

The same thing goes on for people who don't want the slop that's been served up for 7 years. We'll take what we can get, figure that at the very least SOMETHING will be different and hope for the best full-well knowing that likely, at best, there may be about a 20% difference in what ultimately goes on.

Most people I know are fully prepared to vote for HRC or BO based on the fact that they are not McCain and they are not the GOP. Beyond that a lot of people don't give a damn. They figure it is as bad as it can get right now so as long as the person that Bush is endorsing doesn't get the job then, well, mission accomplished.

Posted by: jim at May 13, 2008 1:56 PM

MVH, by themselves presidents can make relatively few major policy decisions; by themselves they can't appoint judges and justices without the advice and consent of the senate; by themselves they can't even appoint their own cabinet officials without the concurrence of the senate; only the senate can approve treaties; only the congress can approve budgets and authorize appropriations; etc etc. A president can propose to his heart's content, but if he can't "get things done", as you say, that president will be judged a failure, whether or not we approve of his initiatives (and especially if we approve of them). If BO becomes our president, his true-believer supporters will be bitterly disappointed if he fails. They, of all people, should be concerned about how inadequately prepared he is to be our president.

Posted by: Bob at May 13, 2008 2:21 PM

And people who vote for Obama are not necessarily "naive" or "drinking the kool-aid". There is nothing wrong with voting against a candidate because you don't like their policies, even if that candidate is, by some measures, more experienced.

Again, I haven't heard one Republican admit they would vote for Hillary if she had more experience -by Crank's measure or any other - than McCain. And I'm sure they would vote for Jindal if he were running against Hillary, despite his inexperience. And that's because they oppose the policies of the democrats.

Posted by: MVH at May 13, 2008 2:23 PM

Bob,

My point is, people that like Obama's policies would rather have him try and fail (at the worst), than have a president that WILL succeed in pushing for policies that those voters dislike.

The debate about experience is more relevant, I think, between candidates of the same party, e.g., Hillary v. Obama, McCain v. Thompson, etc. There the question is: who is more capable of pursuing the policies you want?

Posted by: MVH at May 13, 2008 2:27 PM

Jim, I get it. You want something different. But what? Hope? That's a policy you can bank on.

The first problem with complaining about Bush is that you lump absolutely everything into one basket and it's all a disaster. You're so blinded by hatred for the president that you'll deny any progress in any area since his election. The second problem is that he isn't running and, sorry to tell you, McCain is not Bush.

You still haven't acknowledged the economy (which blew away Billy Jeff's record, btw) or the fact that US foreign policy involves more than Iraq (see Proliferation Security Initiative). I may support the president but at least I can man-up and admit he's made mistakes. Can you admit that he's had some successes?

Posted by: Chris at May 13, 2008 3:15 PM

How do you expect Mr. Obama to get any experience when The Man's been keeping him down?

Posted by: spongeworthy at May 13, 2008 3:19 PM

Chris,

You keep writing about things that I have not said. Personally, I have done well in this economy. Do I owe that to Bush anymore than I would to owing doing well from '92-'00 to Clinton? Do you want me to give Bush credit for the economy. OK. I do think many of his economic policies are disastrous (housing, job creation, GDP growth, debt selling to foreign nations, debt reduction, etc.) and I have little doubt that McCain would float along in that same boat. I do think Bush, rowing against the GOP tide, has actually had decent, given the landscape, thoughts on immigration issues as opposed to the "Arrest them, throw them out, keep them out" mantra of many in the GOP. How's that? Probably the thing you dislike about him. On balance it is not nearly enough to have even a glimmer of positive thought about this administration or the one they would endorse to follow them.

Here's what I think about Hope since that is apparently what you think I should talk about. I hope McCain does not get elected. If he does I hope he does not bring upon us more un-ending war/occupation and more ruinous economic policies, further reduction of civil rights and so on. If Clinton or Obama are elected I hope they figure out a way to deal with much of the mess (of many kinds) that has been created without making things worse. That I think is the best I can say of any of these 3. There are no earth shakers here.

Posted by: jim at May 13, 2008 3:50 PM

..."Most people I know are fully prepared to vote for HRC or BO based on the fact that they are not McCain and they are not the GOP."

jim,

Most people I know are fully prepared to vote for JM based on the fact that he is not BO or HRC and he is not a Democrat. So what? Seen through the prism of partisan politics, most any Republican will accept a "third term" of Bush if the alternative is a "second term" of Carter. Based on the last two elections, it's hardly a slam dunk for either side, though it could have been for the D's. By the way, BO is one with the crazy "uncle".

Posted by: Phils57 at May 13, 2008 4:06 PM

Phils57,

You got the point. We are at a point where we are voting for who people are not rather than who they are. Sure, there are supporters on all sides that would vote for their guy (or gal) on policies or principle but the state of affairs is so poor that what we are accepting, what we have been offered, is a choice of not wanting what the other side has to offer as the best solution.

Posted by: jim at May 13, 2008 4:15 PM

Come November, if the majority of voters say "yes" to BO, he'll become the president of those who voted for him, those who voted for his opponent (presumably JM), and all of those who couldn't or wouldn't vote at all. All of us will expect him to do what our constitution requires of him, and do it well. In addition, some of us - perhaps most of us - will expect him to propose and win the approval of the policies and programs that he advocates during the campaign. If he doesn't meet these expectations, he will have failed as our president, but he won't get an "A" for effort. I think BO would be an at-risk president because he lacks the experience that forms a leader: he's done little; he's accomplished less; and he's learned nothing from failure because, to date, he's never known failure.

Posted by: Bob at May 13, 2008 5:10 PM

Speaking of experience, and on a lighter note, a 19-year-old college freshman was just elected mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/05/14/freshman.mayor.ap/index.html

Posted by: MVH at May 14, 2008 9:01 AM

Just when I thought this post had run it's course, more keeps coming in!

I am a conservative; here is my 2 cents:

-I am not going to vote for Obama not because of his race; rather because I don't think he has the experience and I don't agree with his liberal views.

-I agree that people like me will "settle" for McCain because for us he is the least worst of the two.

-You can't blame Bush for the "low" standard of nominees for President. That is ridiculous.

-I challenge one of the liberals to write a long article detailing why Obama would make a good president. Please go lite on the "hope" and "he will bring us together" stuff. Stick to substance.

-Will Hillary run as an Independent? If Perot could in '92 (which helped Clinton get elected since Perot got almost 20M votes http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1992&f=0), then why not Hillary?

Posted by: Lee at May 14, 2008 9:59 AM

I believe the whole point of Crank's post has gotten lost in the partisan back and forth dribble of these comments. He is saying that inexperience matters in that it is part of the TOTAL picture one needs to get in order to decide who to vote for. It is not a disqualifying (or qualifying) element in and of itself, but it is surely something that must be weighed when contemplating who you support. MVH's notion of arguing for Hillary "if she had more experience than McCain" is besides the point. Even if she had more experience than anyone who has ever run for president in the history of the country, I wouldn't vote for her because her ideas and policies are not something I agree with.

To summarize, Crank's point is that we use lack of experience as another piece of the puzzle.

Posted by: Darren at May 14, 2008 11:26 AM

Actually Darren, your conclusion that you wouldn't vote for Hillary because her ideas and policies are not something you with agree with, was exactly my point. And I wasn't criticizing that. I was just pointing out that experience will only matter to the extent one agrees with the candidate's policies, and therefore isn't very helpful when the comparison is across party lines. Admittedly, my Hillary/Jindal example drives that point home better than my Hillary/McCain comparison. Republicans would ignore his complete lack of experience and vote for him rather than Hillary. All that is fine, but it shows you how hollow it is for one party to argue that the other party's candidate is less experienced. And it would be hollow for the Democrats to do so if the tables were turned. I just think it's better left for intra-party comparisons.

I certainly wasn't advocating for Obama in my posts. For the record, I did vote for Obama, albeit extremely reluctantly, in the Democratic primary. Frankly, I would rather would have voted for a much more conservative Democrat if one with the right policy mix was available. I haven't even decided whether I will vote for him in the general election


Posted by: MVH at May 14, 2008 12:36 PM

MVH,

I don't agree that "a person" would look at ideas and policies first with experience being for intra-party comparisons. There are many voters out there that will use many approaches to pick their next president.

The undecided who don't have strict party (or ideological) loyalty will judge the candidates on a number of factors. Crank layed out a nice comparison for such people.

In any election there are people who will switch parties. IMHO, McCain has a chance to pull some more central Democrats to him. If he does this, I just hope he does not leave us more conservative people out.

Posted by: Lee at May 14, 2008 2:42 PM

Understood, Lee. There may be some that find that experience argument persuasive. But speaking as one of those undecided, central/conservative democrats without much party or ideological loyalty who could possibly vote for McCain, I'm not persuaded. :) And I could very well be wrong, but I'd be surprised if working the "experience" angle would pick up a lot more of us. Policies matter to us, too - we're just looking for a different policy mix.

I think Republicans will have an easier time distinguishing Obama on policy grounds in the general election campaign because Obama, at some point, is going to have to be much more specific about what he actually wants to do.

Posted by: MVH at May 14, 2008 3:22 PM

Well put!!!!

Posted by: Joanna at May 15, 2008 4:07 AM
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