Perpetual President Bush? The 'Experience' Red Herring

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 08:30 PM

Jimi Hendrix asked, "Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?" Hillary Clinton now (and Republicans later), asks, "Is Obama experienced? Has he ever been experienced?" And the whole issue is the rottenest of red herrings.

And I can prove it. Who is currently the person whose bare "experience" most qualifies him to be President of the U.S.A.?

George Bush, of course, assuming that the currency of his 7+ years of service in that position outweigh the full 8 years of service that Bill Clinton can claim. And Rummy-Rummy-all-in-free remains most experienced at the post of Secretary of Defense. And, of course, Dick "Whips-n" Cheney is absolutely the most experienced at Vice President. So if bare experience--time spent at a particular job or activity--is your criterion, why have an election at all? Just keep the incredibly experienced crew you've already got.

Hillary Clinton keeps claiming that she has more experience than Obama. As far back as January of last year, major media were running stories on whether Obama had enough of that valuable commodity, experience.

The concept of experience has two components: exposure to a specific activity or event, and wisdom learned by virtue of that exposure. It's not hard to ascertain how much of the first component a particular person has; you just look at the date they entered a job, and the date they exited it. But it's the second component that is really important, and which is impossible to measure objectively.

Bush, Cheney, et. al. have plenty of the first component, but all the current evidence indicates that they have zilch when it comes to the second. John McCain can lay claim to plenty of the first component, but his pronouncements about Iraq, the economy, government intervention in the mortgage nightmare, tax policy and a host of other issues pretty clearly cast doubt on how much of the second component he can claim.

Hillary Clinton also is obviously talking about the first component (and even then it's questionable whether she really has more bare experience than Obama). Karl Rove has spoken from the mountain top to indicate that Obama doesn't have enough "experience." Mike Madden at Salon,com writes that a big part of the GOP play book for running against Obama is to "first and foremost, ... paint Obama as dangerously inexperienced -- a characterization of him that Clinton's own polling has found to resonate with many voters, and an attack that Clinton has already been using."

If you have any doubt that bare time spent in a certain job tells you whether a person is qualified, just ask yourself, "What past president was the least experienced when he got the job?" Pretty much by definition the answer has to be George Washington.

And if mere years in office mean something, then Fidel Castro, prior to his retirement, must have been the most qualified leader in the world.

Obama has several years in the Illinois state legislature, two years in the senate. Abraham Lincoln had several years in the Illinois state legislature and two years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

No, that doesn't mean that Obama is Lincoln; nor does it mean that Obama will be a good president at all. But it does mean that Obama's level of bare "experience" won't be what ultimately decides whether he's a Lincoln, a Fillmore, a Taft, or a Bush. That will depend on the entire package of abilities and knowledge that he carries in his head.

So keep in mind, the next time you hear a Clintonite or Rove-bot spouting off about experience:

Washington = no experience.

Bush = much experience.

Lincoln = Obama when it comes to experience.

Discussions of Obama's experience = distraction.