Much has been said in this presidential election cycle about the concept of “experience” – during the Democrat primaries, Clinton had it and Obama supposedly did not. That stigma has followed Obama into the general election, with McCain (at 72 years old and in Washington for 25 years) and pundits claiming that he has greater “experience”. Ironically, the Arizona senator has taken up/stolen “Change” as the mantra for his campaign, while contradictorily at the same time emphasizing his long tenure in Washington.
Those contradictions aside, what is really meant by “experience”? It appears that many believe that wisdom and competence accrues simply by virtue of sticking around the capitol for a long time. But there are other connotations the term has taken on, particularly with the emergence of Sarah Palin onto the political scene (I’ll leave the quibbling over whether governorship in Alaska rates as being in the political scene). Democrats, even many leftists, are now decrying Palin’s lack of “experience” as a fatal flaw of her candidacy. But I think the attribution is disingenuous, and that “experience” is being used in place of “ideology” and “race” (in the case of Obama).
The Contradictions of Sarah Palin
In Palin’s case, critics are actually being unfair in accusing her of inexperience. Her background is still incomplete, but we know the following: She comes from what appears to be a working class family (her mother a secretary and father a school teacher) and attended public school. She worked as a reporter while raising a family. She became involved in politics at a local level, eventually becoming the mayor. Within 20 years of graduating from college, she won office as the governor of Alaska.
Palin did these things – as a woman – in a remote part of the country. Although possessing white privilege, as well as privileges based on her religion and sexual orientation, it is remarkable in this country that a woman raising a family ascended through civic ranks in such a fashion. She was not born into the ownership class of the United States; not born into wealth, nor a prestigious family, and didn’t benefit from powerful connections gained from attending elite schools. We can (and damn well better) challenge her ideology, but we should not challenge her lack of time spent in Washington as something that makes her less than qualified.
“Experience” Means Nothing
“Experience”, as interpreted literally in the political dialogue, is virtually irrelevant. Frankly, we shouldn’t care if a candidate has been a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations or Foreign Affairs when it comes to international policy. We shouldn’t care if someone has been elected 20 times to their seat in the House. Winning elections and sitting on committees to not inherenly impart wisdom or even comprehension. John McCain still doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a, and he’s been in the Senate for 21 years.
We shouldn’t reject Palin because she doesn’t have experience. We should reject her, however, because she is a terribly ignorant candidate, unfamiliar with even the most basic institutions of U.S. government. We should reject Palin because she is a tokenistic attempt to garner female support based on identity politics. We should reject Palin because she was chosen because of her radical right-wing ideology and lack of respect for the rights of others. We should reject Palin because she is a hypocrite who would likely increase the failures of the Bush administration. And the list goes on.
And if we had any other choice, we should reject Obama – not because he lacks experience – but because he is an unprincipled corporate candidate who says what is needed to be elected. We should reject Obama – if we had a better option – because he is not an anti-war candidate, but in fact a long-time supporter of the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations and because he actively pledges to escalate war. If we weren’t forced to choose between him and a Republican slate that would reverse judicial gains won by generations, we should reject Obama as violating his Constitutional oath by refusing to challenge the illegalities of the Bush administration. And the list goes on.
Who We Need
We don’t need experience in a president. We need a sane, rational, compassionate person with a willingness to respect national and international law. We might be better off choosing a citizen, at random, who isn’t financed by lobbyists, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, oil companies, and who isn’t surrounded by advisors who come from centers of power and wealth in the country. In this sense, “experience” has also come to mean, among other definitions, being approved by sectors of the ownership class in the country. The nominees from both parties are far too corrupt, far too owned, to view the world in a common sense fashion. Would it really be a worse system to pick 10 citizens at random, put them on the national stage, let them speak their minds, and let the country choose the best of them?
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