Experience counts. Or does it?
Voters have been hearing a lot about that subject during the current presidential campaign. Or, to put it another way, they’ve been exposed to a lot of talk about it. There’s no sign they’re listening now or that they ever have
But the pols, the talking heads and really hard-core political junkies have been consumed by the subject.
Fans of John McCain are beside themselves over Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s lack of political experience (member of Illinois State Senate, a political cesspool, and four years in U.S. Senate).
Fans of Obama are besides themselves over Sarah Palin’s lack of political experience (mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska).
At the same time, neither group is troubled in the slightest by their own favorite candidate’s lack of political experience. It’s a psychological disconnect that stems from the fact that Obama fans like Obama and don’t like Palin and McCain fans like Palin and don’t like Obama. Besides being an acceptable hypocrisy, it’s proof that experience may not count as much in terms of attracting votes as some people would like to think.
Obama fans like Obama because he’s an attractive, intelligent, articulate guy who shares their positions on the issues. They expect him to fill his government, if he’s elected, with people who share his and their values. They’re for him and his team. So what difference does his lack of experience really make to them? None.
McCain fans feel the same way about McCain/Paln.
In a perfect world, perhaps experience would be the key ingredient. But just remember this: all those CEOs whose financial companies are crashing and burning right now were hired on the basis of their experience, and it didn’t help them very much. In fact, their prior experience only increased their certitude as they made what have been demonstrated to be disastrous decisions.
Let’s go back roughly 50 years and examine “experience elections” and see who won.
1960 - Richard Nixon vs. John Kennedy. Nixon ran, at least partly, on his experience of eight years as vice president. Sure, Kennedy was a U.S. Senator, but he was notoriously uninterested and uninvolved in the Senate during his eight years there. Kennedy won.
1964 - Johnson vs. Goldwater. Two experienced candidates.
1968 - Nixon vs. Humphrey. Two experienced candidates. George Wallace was a third-party candidate.
1972 - Nixon vs. McGovern. Two experienced candidates.
1976 - Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter. Ford had been president for two years, vice president and a longtime GOP congressional leader. Carter was a one-term governor of Georgia, clearly the lesser experienced of the two. Carter won.
1980 - Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter. By then, Carter was the experienced candidate. Reagan had been a two-term governor of California and had not held public office since 1974. He had no foreign policy experience. Reagan won in landslide.
1984 - Reagan vs. Mondale. Two experienced candidates.
1988 - Bush I vs. Dukakis. Two experienced candidates.
1992 - George Bush vs. Bill Clinton. Bush was clearly far more experienced (president, vice president, CIA chief, envoy to China and member of Congress) against Clinton, longtime governor of a small state with no foreign policy experience. Clinton won handily.
1996 - Clinton vs. Dole. Two experienced candidates.
2000 - Al Gore vs. George Bush II. A classic experience election. Gore (sitting vice president, former senator and member of U.S. House of Representatives) against Bush II, governor for six years of Texas with no foreign policy experience. Bush won.
2004 - Bush II vs. Kerry. Two experienced candidates.
The record would indicate that candidates labeled inexperienced have no trouble winning presidential elections.
Voters don’t seem to care.
Remember, in elections people vote based on their gut feelings. Who do they like better? What external factors influence the election (economy, war, abortion, black presidential candidate, female vice presidential candidate, etc.)
So now the Dems are running against Palin based on her lack of experience. McCain tried running against Obama on the same issue and saw it was getting him nowhere. So he shook up the race with Palin to his advantage. Meanwhile, Obama went with Biden (experienced squared in the U.S. Senate) and Biden is committing a gaffe a day on the campaign trail. The New York Times even wrote a feature story about it.
Oh, and remember Hillary. She ran those “it’s 3 a.m. and the phone rings in the White House” ads against Obama. He won. She lost. That about sums up the importance of the experience issue in presidential campaigns.
Still, even if it doesn’t, experience should count. The New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about it in his column today.