Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yes, let's please debate experience

I'm not sure whether I was more pleased by McCain's picking Palin or by the resulting Democratic response.

The Obama campaign's response was:

Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Chuck Schumer weighed in with this:

After the great success of the Democratic convention, the choice of Sarah Palin is surely a Hail Mary pass. ... Certainly the choice of Palin puts to rest any argument about inexperience on the Democratic team and while Palin is a fine person, her lack of experience makes the thought of her assuming the presidency troubling. I particularly look forward to the Biden-Palin debate in Missouri.

Besides both quotes continuing the trend from their convention of sounding mean and elitist, I'd like to encourage the Democrats to continue bringing up Palin's supposed lack of experience.

Here's why.

First, since it's obvious that Biden has more experience than Palin, and that McCain more than Obama, the comparison that gets made is between Palin and Obama. Once again, we're left wondering if Obama has enough experience. And Obama's the top half of the Democratic ticket; Palin's the bottom half of the Republican ticket. So this just winds up begging the question: which is more important to avoid - a supposedly inexperienced President or a supposedly inexperienced Vice-President?

Second, let's actually explore the experience differences between Obama and Palin.

Palin got into politics as a member of the Wasilla City Council in 1992. That makes it sixteen years since the start of her political career. Obama got his start with being elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996. That's a full four years longer that Palin's been picking up political experience.

Obama took his highest office, that of being a US Senator, in January, 2005. He's been (officially) campaigning to be president since February 10, 2007 though. So, he's had two full years where his attention was actually singularly-focused on being a Senator. Palin took her highest office, that of being the Governor of Alaska in December 4, 2006. So, she's been there almost two years. And she's actually been focused on doing the job her constituency elected her to do the entire time, instead of touring around the country trying to obtain the next highest office.

So, Obama has been a senator longer than Palin's been a governor ... but not by a whole lot, and really not by much if you factor out the time Obama's been focused on running for president instead of representing Illinois.

And now here's the two important points about the quality of that experience

One, the President is an executive role. Palin's been a mayor and a governor. Those are executive roles. Obama's been a state and national senator. There's zero executive experience to be found in either role.

Two, Palin can list accomplishment after accomplishment for her executive service. She cut property taxes dramatically in Wasilla. As governor she successfully went after corrupt officials within her own party. She cancelled the huge waste-of-tax-payer's-money "Bridge to Nowhere." She's challenged the current Washington establishment on oil and energy security. She's supported bringing change to Washington by supporting the effort to unseat (Republican) U.S. Congressmen Don Young from Alaska and has been anything but supportive of (also Republican) U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

What's Obama done? If you can't think of anything, you're not alone. But, maybe you're thinking back to the Saddleback Civil Forum where, when asked about something bipartisan Obama had done, he talked about how he worked with John McCain to pass ethics reform. There's an accomplishment, right? Well, not so fast. Obama did work, for about a week, with McCain but then jumped ship from a role in a bipartisan effort to just support the bill crafted by the Democrats. (But maybe Obama's audacity to lie to Rick Warren during the Saddleback Civil Forum counts as an accomplishment?)

The final area to consider is foreign policy experience.

I'm not sure what Obama can point to here, short of traveling to get some photo ops with foreign leaders and promising but then reneging to meet without precondition with our foreign leaders.

Palin too comes up fairly short. She does have the experience of governing a state with a 1500 mile border with Canada, and as a governor she also has experience overseeing Alaska's National Guard. As part of her experience with Alaska's National Guard she visited Kuwait (and her trip to the Middle East was nearly a year before Obama's).

And I'm not really that concerned with Palin's relative lack of foreign policy experience. Capable leaders who come in with executive experience, like say, Ronald Regan, have been known to do great things in the foreign policy arena (like, say, end a cold war), without formal foreign policy experience prior to their becoming President. Palin (unlike Obama) has that executive experience. And (also unlike Obama), Palin's only going after the second-in-command position.

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