The Experience Quotient!

One of the issues in the current Presidential campaign is experience. How much importance do we give to experience. Hillary has been making much hay about her greater level of experience as compared to Barack Obama. The question is -- how important is experience? And if experience is the most important criteria, then why are the three candidates left standing (yes I know that Dennis Kucinich hasn't dropped out yet) are the least experienced of the Democratic candidates who have run this year. Obama is starting his 4th year, Hillary her eighth. John Edwards served one six year term. How does that compare to those already discarded -- Dodd, Biden, Richardson and Gravel?
And if Hillary wants to make experience her hallmark, she'd better hope John McCain isn't her opponent in November.
Nicholas Kristoff has analyzed this question of experience in a NY Times op-ed, and noted that some of our greatest Presidents of the 20th century had little political experience. TR was governor for 2 years and had 6 months under his belt as VP (but that charge up San Juan Hill!). And of course America's greatest president -- another guy from Illinois, served one term in Congress -- Abraham Lincoln.
The reality is that there are all kinds of experiences -- Obama's experiences as a community organizer and even his time spent in Indonesia as a child could be the kind of experiences we need in a President for the 21st Century.
And just to prove the point -- this from Kristoff:

To put it another way, think which politician is most experienced today in the classic sense, and thus — according to the “experience” camp — best qualified to become the next president.

That’s Dick Cheney. And I rest my case.


Mystical Seeker said…
If all of Hillary Clinton's alleged experience makes her such a fine judge on foreign policy matters, then she would have voted against the war in Iraq. So much for the "experience" argument. There were some 20 Senators who were smarter than she was and who voted against the war at the time.

I'm sure she'd be patting herself on the back now if the Iraq war had turned out to be the cakewalk that the cheerleaders for war were saying at the time. It is easy to be against a war that isn't going well. It takes integrity to oppose a war that is being steamrolled on the country and which will be quick. Since the war didn't go well, she tries to weasel out of taking responsibility for her vote, refusing to apologize for it and claiming that she voted for the war only under certain conditions (but then she voted against the Levin amendment that would have imposed just those conditions.)

The whole experience argument is a canard. I'll take justice over experience every times. When a former member of the Board of Directors of union-busting Wal-Mart runs for President, I know where she stands when it comes to justice.

A return to triangulation? Keeping the troops in Iraq until at least 2013? This is what the country wants?
In spite of Hillary's ridiculous claims about having the "most" experience, we do need to take experience seriously as a qualification for the presidency. The key, as Kristoff touched on in various ways, is recognizing that not all experience is equal.

Obama, for example, has more experience as an elected official than Clinton. But then again, is eight years in the state legislature the same as eight years in the U.S. Senate when it comes to ones qualifications for the presidency? Or does legislative experience really matter at all since, as Kristoff pointed out, our best presidents have been those with prior executive experience.

Another issue is the quality of one's experience and to what extent one has learned from one's experience. In teaching, for example, we often talk about the distinction between "teachers who have thirty years of experience and teachers who have one year of experience thirty times." (This applies to pastors too. But I digress!) In that respect, GWB clearly falls into that latter category even though he's in his eighth year of the presidency. Or, more critically, for the upcoming election, Hillary also falls into the latter category when in comes to her position on the War in Iraq.

And then there's those all important life experiences that shape one's character and values but can be easily itemized like one's work history on a resume: McCain's experience as a POW, Obama's multicultural experience, Edwards upbringing in the working class, Clinton's long years as the First Lady of Arkansas and the United States, GWB's alcoholism and conversion to self-help Methodism (not to mention his upbringing with a silver spoon in his mouth). All of these things dictate--to a certain extent--what kind of president a candidate may or may not be.

Frankly, I would feel more comfortable with Obama if he had more experience at the national-level or the executive-level than he currently does. But, at this point, he's the only viable alternative to Hillary that the good voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have left us with. And at this point, I actually prefer Obama's inexperience over a continuation of the Clinton dynasty, the possibility of a "back to the '90s presidency," and Hillary's coziness with the corporate DLC.

And really, it might not be that bad. If elected, Obama will have, at least in the classic sense, twice as much experience in elected office as his predecessor did when he was inaugurated.

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