Experience is more important than charisma

Voting for any candidate at any level requires a leap of faith and that is particularly the case in a presidential election, even when one has a strong party affiliation. Quite often, the most appropriate guide is the old adage that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

That seems especially cogent in a primary selection process that inevitably has become focused on gender against race, experience against fledgling, political noblesse oblige against upstart rock-star attraction. It is unfortunately — or, fortunately, depending on one’s disposition — what the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has come down to.

There are so many negatives on both sides in what is now a two-person contest it would take a year to enumerate them. But for the more discerning voter, the brevity of Barack Obama’s resume leads the list. There is little on it that would encourage voters to believe that he is at this stage of his career ready for that lofty position. A law degree, a stint in the Illinois legislature and a short stay so far in the U.S. Senate are acceptable, but hardly impressive in a world that requires the American president to be much more than that. The Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and, in some ways, Bill Clinton administrations are good examples.

Is the senator glamorous? You bet. Is he bright and articulate? You bet. Can he whip up a crowd? Certainly. Charisma is in no short supply here. But at 46, and with no military or discernible foreign experience, no sense of how to deal with domestic problems other than a few years in social practice in Chicago, is he ready for the most important assignment on the globe?

John F. Kennedy, the man to whom he is now being compared, wasn’t, even with twice the time in grade in the House and Senate and a distinguished war record. He could wring virtually nothing from a recalcitrant Congress where his party held the majority. It took his ultra-savvy successor, Lyndon Johnson, to accomplish that. Had Johnson abandoned the Kennedy Vietnam policy, as he should have, he would have been among the most respected of the nation’s chief executives.

So other than eloquent words and promises of change, it is difficult to know where Obama stands on much of anything. The “change” theme is as recurring in these campaigns as the flu. What exactly does it mean? When, it seems fair to ask, does change suddenly become what other people want after you have been in office a few months? It seems easy to talk about altering the way the country works, but doing that is another matter. It takes years of on-the-job training to understand how to buck the twin tigers of an entrenched bureaucracy and a partisan legislature to succeed in anything in this city. Besides, some things don’t need to be fixed. They aren’t broken.

In contrast, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been there and done that, won some and lost some. She has put in her time in grade, and whatever her detractors find wrong with her, the one thing that is indisputable is her complete understanding of what the job entails. Wide-eyed “what do I do now?” befuddlement just isn’t in her nature. If voters fear that she will not be her own person, that her former-president husband will pull the strings, they really haven’t been paying attention. She is as tough as nails and as bright as anyone on the political scene. Besides, he owes her much more than she owes him.

The odds now are that the likely Republican opponent will be John McCain, a military hero and veteran of wars from Vietnam to the U.S. Senate, where he has spent the last 20 years, not always playing follow the leader. His experience in foreign, domestic and military matters is indisputable and in sharp contrast to Obama’s. The Arizonan will be difficult for the thinking voter to turn down despite the burden of an unpopular GOP predecessor and a shaky economy.

So who better for the Democrats to pick to counter this: The devil they know or the devil they really don’t? Will there be another time for Obama? There is no doubt. But this really isn’t it. As my grandfather used to say, be careful about buying a pig in a poke.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. almandine

    Another DKT fantasy…

    Barak Obama has MORE combined legislative experience than Hillary… and other than her failed health care intiative during Bill’s first term, she has had NO ROLE in the executive branch. Perhaps the experience factor of which he speaks is that related to crooked dealings… Rose Law Firm nursing home scandals, Whitewater, insider commodity dealings, campaign finance misconduct, etc., and in today’s world that may be the experience most relevant to serving as the Pres. If so, God help us. The question of whether Dems should pick: “The devil they know or the devil they really don’t?” is a complete insult to Obama, who doesn’t have such scumbaggage.

  2. Steve Horn

    If experience is the more important, Nixon should have trounced Kennedy. Of the two, who left a more positive legacy? (please understand, I know that Kennedy increased our involvement in Vietnam, which Nixon got us out of, I’m looking at legacy and lasting impact to the nation, not specifics)



  3. pondering_it_all

    Obama has served 9 years combined in the Illinois and US Senates, versus Clinton’s 7 years in the US Senate. So while Hillary has more experience in Washington DC, the comparison of their respective levels of legislative experience is a wash.

    Obama has served on the Foreign Relations Committee and visited several troubled areas of the world in that capacity, while Clinton has not (she has served on several other committees), so you can’t claim that she has more foreign policy experience or that Obama lacks it.

    Senator Clinton has had many more years of being a public figure because of her husband’s terms in office in Arkansas and the White House, but that is not really “experience”. It’s more like Forrest Gump just happening to stand next to the real subject of the historical photo! We’re not talking about an Eleanor Roosevelt or Nancy Reagan who had to take over aspects of their disabled husband’s office for many years. Bill Clinton was always totally involved and in complete control as Governer of Arkansas and President.

    Democrats who have reservations about Hillary Clinton do so mainly BECAUSE of her experience: Getting taken in by Bush’s lies so she voted for the bill he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, voting for Patriot Act 1 and then again for Patriot Act 2, voting for any number of bills that have enabled Bush to gut the whole concept of a Democratic Republic of laws versus men, …

  4. Wayne K Dolik

    If experience is so important a criterion to elect a President then, George Bush’s presidency should have been the most successful presidency in the history of this Country. But, we know it has not been so.

    Just look at the experience in service by Rummy, Wolfowitz, Cheney and company. The experience argument is a fraud. Make no mistake about it the limousine liberals that want Hillary instead of Obama want the same thing that the Bushy Neocons want.

    They want global domination and endless warfare. They want economic warfare for personal enrichment at the expense of the “sucker U.S. taxpayer”. Hillary has so much experience that; she has to run away from her own record.

    And, how much of Hillary’s experience do we count of her years sitting on the Corporate Board of Wall Mart; a Corporate Union and Small Biz busting Pariah?

    Let’s substitute the word HONESTY for CHARISMA.

    Barak Obama for President!

  5. Ted Remington

    In reality, the most important thng a president does is pick his advisors both inside and outside the Cabinet with skill and insight into the nature of our Government. And I will step forth and say that style is important.

    Compare the styles of JFK and Nixon; compare the styles of Bill Clinton and the second Bush; you may also draw some strong inferences by comparing the styles of Reagan and the first Bush. If the average American feels good about the President (and his or her administration) he feels positive in his outlook on life. This is not unimportant.

    A concrete example is the Cuban Missile Crisis. In reality, Kennedy lost that confrontation with Khrushchev, who got us to give up a vital strategic asset (our missile systems in Turkey) in exchange for six or seven missiles of dubious usefulness and reliability. But DAMN we felt good about it. And we felt good about our President. And to a great extent the whole world felt good when they thought about the US. Yes, it was style. But that thousand days was a bright spot in most Americans’ lives, and our country was better off for it.

    But Americans have not felt good about our country or themselves in a long time. I believe we need a new Camelot, a new chance to have ourselves a nation which is a leader in the world instead of a bully.

    I know this sounds all touchy feely and that I’ll probably be beaten about the head and shoulders, but darnit it’s important.


  6. marksism

    Boy, does this hatchet job rouse my dander. Playing fast and fancy with the facts–and missing the point of Obama’s run altogether–the author resorts to rank mischaracterizations, half-truths, omissions and dubious claims to downplay Obama’s presidential qualifications and embellish Clinton’s. The facts are that Obama:

    · Earned more than a straightforward law degree, but was graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and distinguished himself as the first black president in the then-104-year history of the Harvard Law Review

    · Served more than a dismissive “stint in the Illinois legislature,” completing just shy of three terms totaling six years in the state senate

    · Gained more than “no sense of domestic problems other than a few years in social practice” in that body engineering health care, child care, worker, welfare and death penalty reforms, as well as speaking out on the financial and emotional consequences suffered by families of soldiers serving in Iraq

    · Developed more than “no foreign experience” with official trips as a U.S. senator to the Middle East, Africa and Europe and his position as a leading opponent of the Iraq war

    · Will have surpassed more than a “short stay so far in the U.S. Senate” with a full four years in that body if elected to the presidency at the end of this year

    · Has accrued more “time in grade” in government to date than Hillary Clinton with nine years under his belt as an elected official to her seven.

    This last fact puts the lie to the common impression the author reinforces that Clinton has more governmental experience to tackle the job of president than Obama. Taken with his claim that Clinton has a toughness and certitude Obama presently lacks (“She is as tough as nails” and “Befuddlement just isn’t in her nature”–impressions far different than the ones she conveyed when she choked up in New Hampshire and in the California debate when Obama’s assertion that he was in a stronger position than she to take on John McCain because of his opposition to the war left her looking clueless), the author’s pontification of her supremacy as a candidate over Obama loses nearly all credibility.

    One of the few pronouncements the author does get right is that Obama does not have the experience of Clinton “to buck the twin tigers of an entrenched bureaucracy and a partisan legislature to succeed in anything in (Washington).” But what he perceives as a fatal flaw is exactly the greatest lure of Obama. For the people of the country do not want a continuation of the confrontational and divisive approaches mastered by the Bush and Clinton administrations but a return to the skills of compromise and conciliation that made this nation great.

    The author just doesn’t get it and should be ashamed for engaging in slipshod journalism.

    Mark Isaacs