Weighing Presidential Experience

I enjoy learning how thoughtful Iowa Democrats have approached this decision. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Relevant experience IS very important. I want to be clear on that point. But I think the discussion could use a little historical perspective (skip down a few paragraphs if you want to skip the preliminaries). But when looking at the leading Democratic presidential candidates I see two people who meet and exceed any reasonable resume requirements, and therefore I didn’t find experience as a terribly useful metric for deciding between Sanders and Clinton. More important to me is how a candidate stands on issues which are important to me, how consistent they have been in those stances, what they have done about them historically, and what I can infer about the way they approach and solve problems based on what they’ve said and done.

Just to be up front, I’ve decided to caucus for Senator Bernie Sanders on February first.

Short version: Sanders’ positions on labor, the economy, education, and health care (areas where I see some of the biggest differences between the candidates) all appeal to me more than the other candidates’ positions. That said, I have many friends who are intelligent, principled, and well-informed and who favor Senator Clinton’s positions on these issues. I very much respect that, and if they are right and Clinton does enjoy greater national support at the end of our sequential nominating process, I will be glad to roll up my sleeves and work alongside them. At that point their nominee will be my nominee. I am pro-Bernie, not anti-Clinton. But this post isn’t about why I’m supporting Sanders as much as it is a problem I’m having with some of the arguments being made suggesting that what I feel is a side issue is more important than it is. My fear is that this wrongfully distracts from the actual policy issues that will matter the most in what we get for our next president.

A candidate should be proud of their experience and we as voters should weigh that along with other factors in our decision. In the case of Sanders and Clinton, despite some campaign ads that would suggest otherwise, the experience issue is a red herring in terms of what I find valuable in evaluating the candidates. Let me explain why I say that.

HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE HAVE RECENT NOMINEES AND PRESIDENTS HAD BEFORE TAKING THE OVAL OFFICE?

The fact is, BOTH Sanders and Clinton have tons of relevant experience in federal government service. In fact, it occurs to me that BOTH front-running Democratic candidates each arguably has more relevant experience than: Obama in ’08, H. Clinton in ’08 (and Clinton would have had more experience than Obama in ’08), and B. Clinton in ’92. Kerry in ’04 and Gore in 2000 probably being somewhat ballpark comparable.

Looking at presidential contests in both parties, and realizing that by default an incumbent with four years in the actual jobhas more experience than any challenger, it’s possible to make some interesting historical observations. In 2008, John McCain had much more experience than the freshman Senator from Illinois who we ended up electing president. 2008 is also an interesting comparison because the world was just as rough a place then as now, if not rougher, what with America being up to its armpits in two shooting wars and facing an economic meltdown. As a famous candidate once said, “are you better off now?” I would say, yes. Yes, we are better off now after two terms of an Obama presidency, and let us not forget that with all of his experience, McCain picked Palin as a running mate.

1992 is also an interesting case. If experience were a deciding factor, we should all have voted for George H.W. Bush. Eight years as veep and four more as president following a long career in politics that included being the head of the CIA, a head diplomat with China, and time in congress, his resume was much more impressive than a man who had been the governor of a middle-sized state for about a dozen years. But Clinton still turned out to be one of the best presidents of my lifetime, IMHO.

All of which is NOT to say it makes sense to value a lack of experience. History also shows us that would be going way too far. For example, our county did not benefit from having the least experienced candidate win (kind of) in 2000. What I am suggesting is that given some minimum relevant experience, the key to success or failure lies in other factors, such as policy, judgment, and personal philosophy.

I feel fortunate that when looking at Sanders and Clinton, I can check the experience box, and move on to the substance of what they’ve said and done as they gained that experience, and what they say they will do if their future experience includes President of the United States of America.

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