Experience, Exshmeariance

I’m passionate about and fascinated by political theory and ideology. But when I observe electoral politics, such as the current presidential campaign, I’m reminded of how nauseating it is to watch the sausage being made.

Much has been made of experience by both major parties in this race. Curiously, the type of experience considered important has varied depending on the given situation. For McCain, national service experience was the key factor for most of his campaign, with experience in war and as a POW seemingly implied as particularly relevant. Since the relative neophyte Palin was added to the ticket, government executive experience at any level became particularly important (though Rove apparently has a caveat for executive experience in Virginia). For Obama, experience was overrated—that is, until the selection of Biden and the introduction of Palin. Now federal experience is crucial (as is, apparently, experience as executive of a presidential campaign). And if we want to recall ex-candidates, Clinton seemed to consider being a member of the presidential household experience compelling to the electorate.

In reality, experience is a rather insignificant factor in determining presidential material. Plenty of presidents have served adequately or better despite little political experience, such as the iconic Abraham Lincoln. A long record can help give us insight into the candidate’s comprehension, judgement, and competence; but that record, that experience, does not itself guarantee quality. There have been plenty of politicians with lengthy tenures whose most outstanding characteristics were their consistent mediocrity.

Rather than listening to the campaigns quibble over experience, voters would be better served getting a measure of the competence, comprehension, and judgement. For example, instead of listening to imaginative speculation that Alaska’s proximity to Russia and Canada or the governor’s role as commander-in-chief of her state’s national guard translates into meaningful foreign policy experience, the public should view Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson for clues as to her depth of understanding perception on international affairs. Same goes for Obama, McCain, and any other of the third-party candidates you personally may (and should) consider. Simple as that. The prattle of each campaign about experience is just an annoying distraction.

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7 Responses to “Experience, Exshmeariance”

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I agree completely with you on this one, Derek. Both sides have changed their message so much it’s rendered their real positions incoherent. I see lack of experience as largely a good thing. Richard Nixon was one of the most experienced and “office-ready” Presidents we’ve ever had, but as was later proven, he was also dishonest and rotten to the core in terms of his personal integrity. I disagree with you about the efficacy and even the virtue of voting for third parties, but there’s no sense getting into an argument about that at this point.

  2. Craig Says:

    Indeed. It’s all getting very annoying and nonsensical. I was disappointed when Obama started watering down his message. It’s also interesting how McCain has suddenly started claiming that he (the Republican ticket) is somehow the true agent of change (from the Republican administration of the past 8 years), especially he ridiculed Obama’s slogans of “Change” and “Hope” – only to choose a VP who has no real experience – arguably less than Obama in most issues.

    It’s all so silly.

  3. Mary Child Says:

    VERY well put. I could not agree more.

  4. D. Sirmize Says:

    Derek, a timely and thoughtful post. Dead on.

  5. Frank Staheli Says:

    I can’t help but think that what we need is LESS experience. How else are we going to turn about the Establishment juggernaut that has made us the virtual laughing stock of the world?

    Honestly, if we replaced the Pres, VP, and every Senator and Congressman with people who understand the Constitution but have NO federal experience, it could not possibly be worse than it is now. In fact, in short order, it would be much better.

  6. Craig Says:

    I agree, Frank. It would be much better – and weren’t those who started the country just that? No experience in federal politicking, but understood the (importance of) the constitution? Hmm… just saying.

  7. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I agree with everything except “the laughingstock of the world,” Frank. I just can’t wrap my head around why we should give that much consideration to what other people think. Be good neighbors, and that’s it. The French and Germans (or the country of your choice) can think whatever they want, and I will point out problems they have right now that rival and quite often surpass what we have to deal with. Just because we’re in an unpopular war doesn’t make us a laughing stock.

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