Clinton and Obama

As some of you may have surmised from my recent Google away tags, I'm an Obama fan. Here's some of my reasoning, as I originally laid it out in a comment on Fred Wilson's blog. It starts with the single most effective argument in the Clinton campaign, namely her years of experience.

I think the experience argument doesn't take you very far. First, Hillary Clinton's experience, as measured by actual number of years in political office, does not significantly exceed Obama's. What she can lay claim to is being around for most of her husband's experience. However, she has admitted that they never shared confidential information, limiting the extent to which those years can really be called "experience."

Secondly, if experience is such a big deal, then the Democrats should have mobilized behind Joe Biden or Bill Richardson. But they didn't. And if we get into a presidential race with John McCain, having a campaign built on "experience" really isn't going to get anyone very far, as his 25 years in Congress dwarfs Hillary's 7.

The biggest point that I'd like to make is that number of years of experience just does not seem to be a strong predictor of presidential quality. Note that Abraham Lincoln had only a single term in the House of Representatives prior to becoming President. Some of our greatest presidents in recent history had similarly short amounts of political experience, including both of the Roosevelts and Woodrow Wilson. On the other side, some of the presidents with the most experience have turned out to be complete failures, e.g. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford.

What I find interesting is that years ago, a president made an argument that “The same old experience is not relevant," and that time spent with real people was just as valuable as time spent in Washington, if not more so. That was Bill Clinton, campaigning against George Bush. Now he and his wife are finding that same language being used against them and they are trying to deny its importance.

I think the biggest issue is what you do with your experiences. You can have all the experience in the world, but if you don't learn the right lessons, then that experience is wasted. I agree with Hillary on most policy issues. I think that universal healthcare will require mandates if they're to be effective. I think we should try and do the right thing in Iraq, rather than beating a hasty exit (although Obama's withdrawal argument is based solely around using it as a hammer to bring about self-governance). If she made it into office, I'd probably be fine because she'd be pushing my agenda.

However, everything that I've read about her management style indicates that she is not the type of person to brook dissenting opinion (See Brad Delong's experience working with Hillary, or David Brooks's recent article in the Times). These anecdotes are admittedly old and she might have changed since then. But I think the teeth that came out in South Carolina are a worrisome indicator that she still has the same "My way or the highway" perspective, and the last eight years have shown us that we can't afford to have that as a country. Her candidacy will almost certainly be a 51% victory, even with the help of some of the strongest Democratic tailwinds in recent decades.

The right policy decisions can go poorly, if arrived at in the wrong way. There were plenty of reasons why we could have gone into Iraq, but we did it in the worst way possible. I think Obama's natural tendency to build a consensus is the right way to set the ship right. We need a political process that is open and honest, not one where decisions are made behind closed doors, where leaders can't admit to their mistakes, and where ideas from one party automatically become anathema to the other. We need someone who can carry us past the 51% majority mark. I know this probably sounds preachy to some of you, but I like to think that it's just being earnest, a character trait that a lot of politicians should be more willing to exhibit.


  1. thomas said...

    Language Log article on the "...s's" discussion we had long ago:  


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