January 17, 2008

The Experience Gap: How Will it Play?

David Broder writes in the Washington Post:

“It was fascinating to watch the three top contenders for the Democratic nomination discuss their concept of the presidency during Tuesday night’s MSNBC debate in Las Vegas. But it was also stunning to realize that the three current and former senators who have survived the shakeout process — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards — have not a day of chief executive experience among them.”

“By contrast, the Republican field is loaded with people who are accustomed to being in charge of large organizations. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were governors of their states of Massachusetts and Arkansas, Rudy Giuliani served as the mayor of New York, and John McCain, as he likes to remind audiences, commanded the largest squadron in the Navy air wing.”

The issue of experience is relevant and certainly will play a role, but experience is not going to be the deciding factor for many voters. Furthermore, experience is not always all its cracked up to be. I can recall George Will describing the incoming Bush administration as government by grownups, because of the great experience and expertise of Bush and Cheney, as well as some of their appointees. Nevertheless, this administration has made many a misstep. While experience is an important and valuable quality, more salient to me is the issue of judgment in the next president. Experience in the chief executive is of little value if the judgments they make are poor. Furthermore, when the candidates raise the issue of experience, what will also spring to mind for voters is their assessment of that experience and how it shaped the candidate, and how it may have affected the voter or people like them.

Its instructive that while Rudy garners national favorable ratings as a great executive, many a New Yorker thinks his New York experience disqualifies him to be President and they would not vote for him. Experience is important, but judgment even more so and just like change, the question on that issue is not just experience, but the kind and quality of experience, not only for the candidate, but also for the people affected by the experience that candidate claims qualifies them for the office.