The Experience Thing

I hear sometimes from folks who support Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. They rely soundly on the experience thing. Why do they always reach for the shortest, bluntest arrow? The experience thing is the least reasonable thinking to cast for one or another of these candidates.

Consider this. There is only one job title in the whole world called “President of the Untied States.” It has been held by 42* people in 219 years. That’s fewer people than there are governors or senators. The Commonwealth of Virginia alone has had 70 governors. The Presidency is a unique employment opportunity. As such, there is no other job in the world that could actually “prepare” a person to fulfill its duties. Certainly, we want a candidate who will bring vast experience to the position. But it is impossible to quantify what experience or how much experience is a specific prerequisite. Like it or not, the President, any President, benefits largely from “on-the-job training,” whether previously a governor, a senator, a First Lady, or a dog catcher. So out of the gate, the experience thing limps and dies on the track.

One could also make the argument that two other presidents, Bill Clinton and the current president, had similar experience under their belts when they came to Washington. Bill Clinton was a several-term governor, and Bush was also a reelected governor. Neither came to the office with a particular mastery of foreign policy or national monetary policy. But it is fair to say as the current president quacks and limps that history will evaluate these two-terms presidencies much differently.

Regardless, when you put these two candidates side by side, the assumption that Mrs. Clinton is much more experienced than Mr. Obama dries up and blows away. Obama went to Harvard; Clinton to Yale. Obama has been a Senator since 2004; Clinton has been a Senator since 2000. She has served on the Budget and Armed Services committees, among others. He has served on the Foreign Relations Committee. She was First Lady from 1993 to 2001. He was a state legislator from 1996 through 2004. Both of these candidates have dedicated their lives and their careers tirelessly to improving America through public policy, and both of their records reflect successes and failures. But the suggestion that Clinton’s experience trumps Obama’s by outrageous leaps and bounds is downright wrong.

No President comes to Washington on January 20 and hits the ground running on that day. There is a transition team that goes to work the day after the Decision. Cabinet members and other aides are vetted and picked. The new President will likely be briefed on many issues and events he or she knew nothing about as a candidate. There will be thousands of grip-and-grin photographs. There will be inaugural balls. There will be ceremonies. The new President will discover how little time there actually seems to be for policy making with all the other ceremonial crap.

This is not to say that experience is not useful. It is not to say that what we really need in the White House is a guy who’s been a janitorial engineer for 20 years. It is to say, though, that a decision this primary season based on the argument of “experience” is flabby at best.

So let’s stop fussing about “experience.” It’s as useful as the media boiling down this primary to “race” and “gender.” Look at their records. Vivisect their stances on the issues. Work hard at voting. Don’t just swallow what you’re spoon-fed. Clinton and Obama are a lot alike, but the place to differentiate isn’t on the experience thing. It’s on the fine-frog hairs of policy. Get to work and decide what you like. But don’t let some idiot convince you that “experience” is even an issue. It’s bullshit.

* I had previously said “43,” but this is not correct. Only 42 people have held the position. Grover Cleveland held the office from 1885-89 and from 1893-97. Thank you for the correction from my cross-post at the Smirking Chimp.

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