Friday, August 29, 2008

So What (Part One)

I've noticed that two of the phrases most used today by conservative commenters online today in reaction to McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate are "executive experience" and "Washington insider," the first in reference to Palin, the second to Joe Biden. I posit that these terms are neutral and meaningless in and of themselves, especially in their current context.

"Executive Experience"

This is the first time since 1960 that a member of Congress will be elected to the presidency. All the other presidents in recent history have been governor of a state or the vice president. And part of the argument has been that governorship is the most relevant training for the presidency. I agree that it can be relevant, but believe that this depends very greatly on the state and the circumstances.

You could say that someone like Schwartzenegger (CA), Romney and Deval Patrick (MA), Ed Rendell (PA), Tim Kaine (VA), Jennifer Granholm (MI) or even Tim Pawlenty (MN)* have relevant executive experience. Managing a populous state with disparate needs within its borders (and in the case of a state like California, an economy on the order of the world's wealthiest nations and a semi-regular need for the state national guard in disaster response) is a complex and challenging managerial task. Some governors (including, possibly, some that I've listed) may be more staff-dependent to keep up this task, but I think that the kinds of choices you have to make in states like these are very relevant to the decision-making process as POTUS.

BUT: Republicans are touting the fact that she has "more executive experience" than the rest of both tickets combined. In a strictly literal sense, this is true. None of the other three have held managerial positions. But the experience they have is far more relevant to the presidency than serving the first 1.67 years of a gubernatorial term in a fairly homogenous (I may be ignorant of Alaska on that point), sparsely populated state drowning in Federal support and oil money (she signed a windfall profits tax on oil companies in the state, and supports giving them more places to drill there). In terms of difficult decision-making, give-and-take, and exposure to national and international issues, her experience PALES in comparison to Obama's four years in the Senate and on the Foreign Relations Committee, and running a massive, 50-state presidential campaign that upset Hillary Clinton. Strategists are saying that Obama's smart move will be to point out how baldly disingenuous this selection renders McCain's criticism of Obama's experience. That's true, but I think that she also loses the experience comparison on the merits.

Dang. Wrote more than I intended. Will talk Washington insider later.

* For those keeping score, that's CAMAPAVAMIMN**. Ask your doctor if Camapavamimn is right for you.

** Oddly, spellcheck didn't underline this word.

*** This footnote has no antecedant, since I didn't feel like putting asterixes in the post title. I just wanted to put it on the public record that the opening chords of "So What," the first track of Miles Davis' seminal album "Kind of Blue," are perfect. That is all.

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