Friday, June 6, 2008

The value of experience

There's a certain argument out there that goes something like this:

"I was for Hillary Clinton, but now that she's out of the race I'll have to vote for John McCain, because he just has more experience than Barack Obama."

I think this is one of those arguments that makes a kind of intuitive sense but disintegrates almost immediately when you think about it for even a couple of minutes.

What is the point of experience, after all? In the case of the presidency, it's improved judgment. Are any Hillary supporters prepared to argue that the judgment McCain has exhibited in recent years, and continues to exhibit today, is superior to Obama's?

McCain supported, and continues to support, the Iraq war. Obama not only opposed it, but in opposing it, predicted basically everything that's gone wrong with it.

One might fairly ask how valuable it actually is to have years of experience being wrong, making mistakes from which you don't learn anything. The presidency isn't a longevity prize, and Obama's judgment on matters of war is plainly superior.

Ah, but isn't the point of "experience" also accumulated knowledge? Having been involved in national politics for decades, isn't John McCain more knowledgeable than a first-term senator like Obama could possibly be?


McCain seems to commit large factual errors almost every day. He claimed we'd drawn troop levels down to pre-surge levels, and when Obama pointed out that we haven't (there are currently 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 20,000 more than there were in January 2007 before the "surge" started), instead of correcting himself and moving on, McCain dug in his heels and accused the Obama camp of being pedantic and quibbling over "verb tenses." (Seriously, verb tenses? Then what is he claiming he was trying to say? That at some future date we will have drawn down to pre-surge levels? That we were at pre-surge levels in the past, prior to the surge?)

He claimed he'd supported every investigation into the government's failures after Hurricane Katrina, but he'd voted against two of them. He's repeatedly claimed al Qaeda, a sunni organization, is being supported by Shi'ite Iran, and seems not to understand the distinction even after being corrected.

He said he didn't know much about economics, then denied he'd said it, apparently unaware that, you know, stuff gets recorded.

Obama quite simply does not have any kind of similar gaffe habit. When he discusses an issue, he generally demonstrates a clear and consistent knowledge of it. What's more, his policy positions are extremely close to Hillary Clinton's. You'll like what a President Obama will do. You'll hate what a President McCain will do.

And isn't that what democracy is about? Voting for people who will enact policies you'll like? It's not a good citizenship prize or a longevity prize or a personality prize (and anyway, I think McCain could win one of those three at best).

For those who think Obama, out of inexperience, might do something dangerous, I have only this to ask: more dangerous than refusing to engage diplomatically with countries we don't like, instead threatening and bombing them? More dangerous than digging in our heels and continuing to pour money and lives into the pit that is Iraq? More dangerous than continuing George Bush's bankrupting tax cuts and appointing more far-right judges who will roll back the civil rights gains of the last sixty years?

What that Barack Obama could possibly do even in a worst-case scenario would be as bad as John McCain's openly stated policies?

Experience by itself is meaningless. What matters is what, if anything, you actually know.

Hosted by KEENSPOT: Privacy Policy