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.