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When Does Experience Matter?

I am having a hard time figuring out when "experience" is important on a presidential ticket. Until yesterday, we were told that "judgment" was more important than any meaningful foreign policy experience for a Presidential candidate. Now that John McCain has selected Alaska's maverick governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, we're told that foreign policy experience is essential for the bottom of the ticket. So while we were told Barack Obama's lack of foreign policy or executive experience was irrelevant, now we hear Sarah Palin's lack of foreign policy experience should be a deal-breaker.

Sure, Sarah Palin was a "hockey mom" before her entry into politics, but Barack Obama has never held a single full-time job for more than three years (and does not have many substantive achievements in any of them). When Palin entered politics, she successfully challenged the corrupt old guard of the Alaska Republican party. When Obama entered politics, he played by the rules of the Chicago machine. So, if experience is what matters (and we ignore the fact that John McCain is the one at the top of the ticket), is it really clear that we'd rather have Obama across the table from Putin than Palin?

Now I've never found the "he has no foreign policy experience" argument against Obama all that compelling. George H.W. Bush had more relevant foreign policy experience than any recent president, and I was hardly a fan. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton partisans, respectively, should also have some difficulty arguing that foreign policy experience is all that important, as neither had any to speak of. Nor, for that matter, did Margaret Thatcher.

If we look at the evidence, I don't think we'd find much evidence that "experienced" Presidents or other Heads of State perform that much better on the international stage. Indeed, in some respects, they perform worse. After all, it was the voices of experience that encouraged the coddling of Saudi Arabia in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. So in the end, I prefer candidates whose principles and perspectives I believe in over old Washington hands. And while I'm still somewhat undecided, the Palin pick makes me more likely to pull the lever for John McCain.

UPDATE: Quite a few folks have asked whether I'm really undecided in the Presidential race. Yes I am. I have never been a big McCain fan, and I continue to have concerns about his temperament, his view of the First Amendment, judges ("Gang of 14"), his approach to regulation, and other issues (even water). I feel no obligation to vote for him because of the "R" after his name. I will only do so if I believe he will be good for the country, and at this point he has yet to close the deal.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Does Campaign Experience Count?
  2. When Does Experience Matter?
61 Comments
Why Does Campaign Experience Count?

I am still a bit confused about this whole "experience" issue. Among the responses to my last post on whether experience of some sort or another is necessary for a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate was the argument that the experience of running a Presidential campaign is itself important experience for the job. So, for instance, some argue that Senator Obama's successful oversight of his own campaign has provided him with sufficient executive experience to be President. (Indeed, this is an argument Senator Obama himself has made in comparing his experience to Governor Palin's experience as a suburban mayor.)

This argument seems a bit tautological: A candidate who runs for President has sufficient experience to be President because he ran for President. Any candidate who runs a successful campaign is qualified due to that success, and that a candidate's lack of experience will be cured if only we support him or her so they can campaign long enough to be qualified. It also suggests that any candidate that has not imploded by November is, ipso facto, qualified for the job.

This all makes me think I should run for President. If anyone dares suggest I lack the experience, I'll simply tell them that's why I need their support: So I can have a successful campaign and gain the experience I need to have in order to be a good President. Any takers?

UPDATE: Commenters are correct to note that Senator Obama noted his campaign experience to compare his executive experience with that of Governor Palin, but not claim that this alone was sufficient experience to be President (though he did compare his campaign experience to hers as Mayor, omitting her experience as Governor). Fair enough, he did not make the argument in as strong a form as my caricature. Others have, however, particularly those who do not think a few years in the Senate without significant committee accomplishments is relevant experience for the Presidency. So, for instance, I've heard this argument made with regard to John Edwards, and (several years back, from the other side of the aisle) with regard to Steve Forbes. Insofar as experience, in itself, is valuable (and, as I've noted, I'm skeptical that "experience" is the variable we should focus upon and found the McCain camp's argument against Obama unconvincing), I find the focus on campaign experience a bit odd.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Does Campaign Experience Count?
  2. When Does Experience Matter?
131 Comments