Experience: Obama v. Palin
Josh Marshall headlines as “Sadly Nuts” a post responding to John McCain’s retort, to questions of Sarah Palin’s qualifications to serve as president, “If they want to go down that route, in all candor, she has far, far more experience than Senator Obama does.”
Set aside the bravado. Can McCain possibly believe that? And if he does, what are we supposed to think of his own fitness to serve? Sen. Obama is certainly new on the national scene. But he’s serving his fourth year in the US senate. He’s run a successful national primary campaign. He’s deeply versed on all the relevant policy issues. Palin has been the governor of one of the smallest states in the country (by pop.) for 18 months. As recently as 2006, she said she hadn’t focused enough on Iraq to have an opinion one way or another about the surge.
Now, I agree, the burden is certainly on Team McCain to convince the country that Palin, a relative neophyte, passes the laugh test for Commander-in-Chief. As regular readers — or even those who’ve read anything I’ve written about the subject since Friday’s announcement — know, I’m skeptical.
But McCain’s assertion that Palin has more “experience” than Obama is hardly absurd. After all, all Josh can marshall in support of Obama is that he’s been studying up on national policy for his presidential run. Three and a half years (if we’re not rounding Palin’s up, we’re not doing it for Obama) in the Senate, most of which he’s spent running for president, is hardly an impressive résumé by presidential standards. (For comparison, see Biden, Joe or McCain, John.) Palin’s been the chief executive for a state government for a year and a half, during which time she’s actually been doing her job, and was chief executive for a municipality for six years immediately before that. Again, not exactly impressive, but it stacks up nicely.
If one goes beyond the job titles and dates part of the résumé and moves on to the “Accomplishments” section, as Bill Dyer does, one can even more easily argue that Palin is more qualified than Obama. She’s actually gotten things done during her tenure in office, after all.
Many people would argue that eightish years of executive experience trumps none. Indeed, as my colleague Dave Schuler pointed out yesterday in the comments of my “Sarah Palin, Small Town Mayor” post, it’s been twelve elections — 48 years — since the last time the American people elected a United States Senator to the presidency. Since then, they’ve chosen: A sitting president (Lyndon Johnson), a former two-term vice president (Richard Nixon), a sitting president (Nixon), a one-term small state governor (Jimmy Carter), a two-term large state governor (Ronald Reagan), a sitting president (Reagan), a sitting vice president (George H.W. Bush), a sitting multi-term small state governor (Bill Clinton), a sitting president (Clinton), a sitting two-term large state governor (George W. Bush) — who lost the popular vote to a sitting two-term vice president (Al Gore) — and a sitting president (Bush). That trend will be broken this year, barring tragedy, since both major parties have nominated a sitting Senator. But, rather clearly, the American people prefer their presidents with serious executive experience.
My own predilections put Obama ahead of Palin in the preparation department because of his Harvard law degree, his years teaching law at Chicago, and his having boned up on national issues in a way that Palin hasn’t yet been forced to. Whether the American people will see it that way is another question.
It should be noted, of course, that Palin is her party’s choice for backup quarterback. Obama, on the other hand, would be the QB1.
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, this topic is generating a lot of discussion.
Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of The Detroit News, doesn’t think either Palin or Obama are qualified, likening the to baseball rookies who need more time in the minor leagues.
[I]s Sarah Palin ready for the Oval Office? She’s been governor for just two years, and before that was the mayor of a small town. Had she finished this term and another, and sustained her early success, she would have earned a look for the ticket. She’s certainly one of the GOP’s top young prospects, but she’s being called up to the big leagues too soon.
And so is Barack Obama. His resume is as thin as Palin’s. He was a community organizer in Chicago, served briefly in the Illinois Legislature and lucked into the U.S. Senate when his Republican opponent, the runaway favorite, got tangled in a weird sex scandal. He, too, has a young family, plays pickup basketball and is very GQ. And as an added bonus, his wife is hot.
But it is embarrassing to hear Obama, 47, explain how his work on the streets of Chicago fully prepared him to be leader of the free world because he met a lot of people down on their luck. He’s been in the Senate just four years and has spent half of that time running for president.
And yet, last week in Denver, the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party walked one by one to the podium to extol the leadership skills of Obama. They had to be choking on their words. Obama doesn’t chair a Senate committee, hasn’t been one of its most influential voices, has never really led anything
This may just be old guy talk, but I still believe in the value of touching all the bases. Politicians like John McCain and Joe Biden spent decades learning their craft. They’ve dealt with crises on both personal and professional levels. There’s not much that will catch them off-guard.
And there are many others like them, men and women from both inside and outside Washington, who have been learning, doing and maturing for a long time and now stand ready to lead. Yet for half of this year’s presidential ticket, we passed them by in favor of rookies.
This election will indeed prove the adage that anyone can grow up to be president. Only now you don’t have to bother with the growing up part.
Gerard Baker, US Editor and Assistant Editor of The Times of London, thinks it’s a slam dunk that Palin’s the better choice. He has a whole list of comparisons along these lines:
Obama: Worked his way to the top by cultivating, pandering to and stroking the most powerful interest groups in the all-pervasive Chicago political machine, ensuring his views were aligned with the power brokers there.
Palin: Worked her way to the top by challenging, attacking and actively undermining the Republican party establishment in her native Alaska. She ran against incumbent Republicans as a candidate willing and able to clean the Augean Stables of her state’s government.
That’s mostly unfair and, frankly, a little silly. Still, one can see that one needn’t be “nuts” or totally lacking in judgment to think it other than obvious that Obama is superbly qualified while Palin is unworthy.