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Sunday, September 28, 2008

AreYou Experienced?

A few thoughts about the debate, etc.

First, although McCain has gotten away from this theme somewhat lately, "experience" is obviously his strongest point of comparison relative to Obama, and he tried to reinforce that over and over in Oxford. But on its own, that's a pretty vacuous point of distinction, since it can also be a negative insofar as it ties you to the status quo. McCain has tried to have it both ways by (a) emphasizing Obama's lack of experience (bad), hence inability to "understand," and (b) playing up Sarah Palin, the ultimate "outsider" (good).

The problem for him is that his particular gambit ignores the means-ends aspect of the "experience" qualification. What we really mean when we say we value experience is that we want knowledge and judgment, qualities that experience develops and reveals. So when Obama shows he can go toe to toe with the aged one in a substantive debate, depite a supposed lack of experience, he negates the presumption that with age comes wisdom. When he shows he won't panic in a crisis, while his opponent flails around, he crushes the notion that he's too green to lead. And when he meets his rival in the eye and addresses his arguments, while that rival averts his gaze and ignores the core issues, he shows that he is the true alpha dog. Indeed, if you're just as knowledgeable and your judgment is just as good (or even better) despite lesser experience, it suggests that you'll be vastly better than your opponent once you have that experience. As George Will pointed out, you can fix inexperience relatively easily, but you cannot fix defects of temperament.

Which brings us to Palin. The problem with her is not simply a lack of experience, it is an utter lack of understanding about national politics or policy. Unlike Obama, who can cite his call on the war as a simple proxy for good judgment, we have no similar examples from her, save maybe the right-wing mythos concerning her mothering virtue. That virtue may in fact exist, but it is not inherently political, and it looks, at least superficially, to conflict with the time-intensiveness of active politicking. So, whether or not it is true, it is a much less stable narrative to rely upon. Meanwhile, her few public appearances all undermine any claim she has to fitness for the job. So McCain exposes himself as committing the very error he falsely charges to Obama: seeking change in the emptiest of suits.

Finally, if you haven't yet seen the WaPo account of the White House meeting of all the various party leaders, go read it. Stunning. Barry makes Johnny his bitch. In private. Then he smiles and plays the bigger man in public, while Johnny glowers. So long Mr. Nice Guy. Hello Barackasaurus Rex.


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