Friday, December 22, 2006

Obama's experience compares favorably with incumbent's

Editorial comment from the Tomah Journal - Tomah, WI

Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) traveled to New Hampshire to test the presidential waters, and the reaction of voters and pundits couldn’t have been more different.

Voters in New Hampshire liked the idea. Obama drew a crowd of 1,500 in Manchester last week, and one reporter described the event as a “rapturous reception ... drawing the kinds of crowds and news media attention usually reserved for a sitting president or a presidential nominee.”

The reaction of the commentators was more muted. The Wisconsin State Journal was typical:

“Obama, touted as a top candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, may be charismatic, smart and oozing with optimism. But the freshman U.S. senator also is untested and sorely lacking in executive and foreign policy experience.”

Sorely lacking in experience? Compared to whom? George W. Bush had only six years as governor of Texas under his belt prior to his election as president in 2000 (Obama, if elected, will have served four years in the Senate). Before that, Bush had failed in the oil business and made $13 million from his part-ownership of a publicly subsidized major league baseball team.

Obama’s experience: A law degree from Harvard and the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. A practicing attorney in Chicago. Seven years in the Illinois state Senate. And while he lacks conventional foreign policy experience, he lived abroad for an extended period as a child, which gives him a unique insight on America’s role in the world. It’s a background that’s arguably more substantive than Bush’s.

Experience counts, but so do qualities like intelligence, poise, decency and the ability to articulate a vision. The latter is especially important. When politicians of both parties swallowed the administration’s justification for the Iraq War, here’s what Obama said in 2002:

“I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

Who has been proven right -- the establishment men and women of Washington, D.C., or the upstart from Chicago?

This isn’t an endorsement of Obama; it’s possible that the rigors of a presidential campaign will unmask weaknesses in his personal and political character (that’s why campaigns are held). But pundits who believe presidential candidates must be marinated in years and years of high-profile elected offices are wrong. There may be reasons why Barack Obama shouldn't be president, but his relatively brief time on the national political stage isn’t one of them.
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