Making “experience” instead of principle the main thing, unprincipled Republicans get caught in their own net

Someone named Shannen (with an “e”) Coffin writes at the Corner:

Sarah Palin is a remarkable American success story—the kind of person that most Americans would love to befriend. She also is a huge political gamble, one that blunts the most effective line of attack on Barack Obama [that he is inexperienced].

The belief that Obama’s lack of experience is his most vulnerable point reveals the stunning intellectual emptiness of the many conservatives who hold that belief. It shows an inability to oppose Obama based on the things that really matter: namely, who he is, what he stands for, what he would do as president. Very few people vote for president on the basis of the candidates’ experience; they vote based on who they think would be the best person to lead the country. The Founding Fathers never spoke of number of years in office as a qualification for the presidency. They said, over and over, that the qualifications for the presidency were virtue and wisdom.

Yes, a certain amount of experience is considered as a prerequisite. And Obama is unusual in that he seems to lack it. But there is no hard and fast line in such matters. At the time that Lincoln was elected to the presidency in November 1860, his experience in significant office consisted of two years in the House of Representatives in the late 1840s. Further, the people who support Obama support him because they like him and what he stands for, not because he has experience. By the same token, getting people to oppose him involves getting them not to like him and what he stands for. So to make his lack of experience the main reason to oppose him shows something like terminal cluelessness on the part of Republicans (just as Hillary’s making her supposed experience the main reason to vote for her showed terminal cluelessness). And as a result of relying on that empty argument, the Republicans are now caught in the embarrassing contradiction of supporting a vice presidential candidate who has exactly the same defect which they’ve made the main reason for opposing Obama, revealing them as people without principles or consistency. If they had opposed Obama primarily on matters of substance (his political principles and agenda, his wisdom and character, etc.), and not on his lack of experience, they would not now be in this fix.

By the way, at this website I think I’ve occasionally referred to Obama’s lack of experience, but it has been way, way down on the list of priorities.

- end of initial entry -

Steve D. writes:

I completely agree with you (and with the Founding generation—good company) that character and principles count far more than mere experience within a political machine, and that the Republican Party was on the verge of making a grave mistake by trying to use Obama’s lack of experience as the cornerstone of their campaign against him.

But might that be one more reason why McCain chose Palin? Not only did he undercut Obama’s celebrity, but he neatly cut away the losing strategy the rest of the party would have tried to force upon him. No longer can the race be predicated upon “I’ve been around longer than he has” (or, as the Democrats would phrase it, “he’s ancient as hell”); now it must turn on the character and principles of the candidates.

McCain, of course, is not the ideal candidate under those circumstances. But while he’s a stubborn, reckless, hotheaded, egotistical lightweight, he’s not calculatedly evil like Obama. And Palin, while inexperienced, is by all accounts an intelligent and decent human being. It would be refreshing to have such a person “within a heartbeat of the Oval Office” for a change.

August 31

Laura W. writes:

Virtue, our predeccessors knew, is hardly the only thing that makes a strong leader. I cannot share Steve D’s comfort that because Palin is a decent person, it’s reassuring that she may possibly hold the highest executive position in the government. I cannot envision someone who so recently was the mayor of a tiny Alaskan city sitting across the table from the likes of Vladimir Putin or confidently meeting with the leaders of our armed forces. Maybe I lack imagination. Decent and likeable people who possess the talent to run a state or municipal government, often lack the fire within, the personal authority or the raw courage to lead a nation. This is a decisive miscalculation on the part of the Republican Party, which is obviously led by detached strategists. Obama’s victory seems assured.

Steve D. replies:
When I wrote that Sarah Palin was seemingly intelligent and decent, I did not mean to limit her good qualities to those two. You don’t take on a long-standing, corrupt, old-boy political network singlehandedly and win without reserves of political cunning and determination. It may be, in fact, that her seeming decency is a facade, and that she is as tough as Hillary. The point is, right now nobody outside Alaska really knows what to make of her, and that too could work to Palin’s advantage—against either Obama or Putin.

Having said that, it is a bit sobering to realize that very soon the White House could be occupied by a former beauty queen and sports reporter—but honestly, that’s just the sloppy intellectual habit of a lifetime, which unthinkingly demands professional politicians to occupy political offices. (Full disclosure: I write as a former sports reporter.)

LA replies:

It’s an advantage that nobody knows anything about her? Isn’t that a bit of a stretch? I must say that since the Palin announcement on Friday morning, I’ve been struck by some of the strained arguments people—namely conservative men—have been using to justify the choice and smooth away all possible problems with her.

As for Laura W.’s comment that “Obama’s victory seems assured,” I am struck by the certainty with which people on both sides of the Palin issue make predictions. Laura seems to be assuming that the country will see Palin as an ill-prepared ditz. That may happen. Alternatively, she may do extremely well in debates and interviews and impress people.

Laura W. replies:

I truly never predicted Palin would come across as an “ill-prepared ditz.” She is obviously not a ditz. As for the impressiveness of her Alaska experience, there is only one response and that is that she has only been governor for two years! To say that Palin is unprepared for the vice presidency and the presidency is not to say her achievements are negligible. They are not.

As for your complaint about predictions, sometimes one just gets a strong intuition where things are headed. The combined national experience of Obama and Biden now seems to have more undeniable cachet. (After all, Obama has spent time in Washington.) The Biden choice seemed stupid to me before, but now it makes sense for the Democrats. This is less a prediction than an overwhelming sense of where things are headed. It’s worth expressing these things. It helps to steel oneself.

LA replies:

You’re right. Sorry that I seemed to attribute that view to you.

LA to Laura W.:
May I ask, what makes you so sure? What if Palin during the campaign comes across as assured and competent?

Laura W. replies:

She would have to come across as extraordinarily assured, competent and versed in a wide range of issues to make up for her lack of national stature. Not impossible, but the very brief exposure I have had to her live speeches suggests to me she will not project this authoritative image.

Doug E. writes:

Laura W. writes:

“I cannot envision someone who so recently was the mayor of a tiny Alaskan city sitting across the table from the likes of Vladimir Putin or confidently meeting with the leaders of our armed forces.”

Don’t know about Putin but we do have this, from the BlackFive website:

Alaska is the first line of defense in our missile interceptor defense system. The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard is the unit that protects the entire nation from ballistic missile attacks. It’s on permanent active duty, unlike other Guard units.

As governor of Alaska, Palin is briefed on highly classified military issues, homeland security, and counterterrorism. Her exposure to classified material may rival even Biden’s.

She’s also the commander in chief of the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF), a federally recognized militia incorporated into Homeland Security’s counterterrorism plans.

Palin is privy to military and intelligence secrets that are vital to the entire country’s defense. Given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, she may have security clearances we don’t even know about.

According to the Washington Post, she first met with McCain in February, but nobody ever found out. This is a woman used to keeping secrets.

She can be entrusted with our national security, because she already is.

Terry Morris writes:

Laura W.’s response to Steve’s remarks is right on the mark as far as I’m concerned. I was thinking it, just hadn’t got around to saying it.

Once again we lack the perspective of a “whole” view, which I think you’ve touched on innumerable times.

Paul Cella writes:

I agree that it is brassbound folly to pretend that Obama’s biggest weakness is his experience. That said, it is instructive, in side-by-side comparison, to see how meager Obama’s record is. Palin’s is as good if not better.

LA replies:

Of course the substantive emptiness of his career is a legitimate thing to criticize him on.

But let’s say a Marxist revolutionary ran for president with Obama’s record. Should the main argument on our side be: this guy’s an empty suit! This guy hasn’t achieved anything!

The implication of that being, if a Marxist revolutionary who did have a substantive record ran for president, that would be just fine with us stupid unprincipled conservatives!!!

The RedState point by point comparison of Obama and Palin is very instructive.

Paul Cella writes:

And of course, Obama was raised, so to speak, by a wide variety of Marxists and pseudo-revolutionaries.

It’s rather remarkable to me that the Democrats are allowing all this experience discussion to go forward unchecked. As a friend of mine says, how stupid can they be to engage in a debate comparing the experience of their Presidential nominee to their opponent’s VP nominee?

Tommy writes:

There are at least three things more important than experience: principles, accomplishments, and judgment. Without those three, all the experience in the world means nothing. I would advise Palin to hammer Obama on all three.

Now, if we could just get an unprincipled McCain off the ticket…

Steve D. writes:

You wrote: “It’s an advantage that nobody knows anything about her? Isn’t that a bit of a stretch?”

It is for now. Palin is a political blank slate as far as the country at large is concerned. That means that the Democrats—who certainly know all about her—will still be uncertain what tack to take. Attack her lack of experience? (But doesn’t that just legitimize a Republican argument against Obama?) Denigrate her background? (And risk alienating a very large, very patriotic working class contingent of the Democratic Party?) Any criticism at all, if not done very delicately, could be interpreted as “sexist” (not by me, but still it would sting the Democrats).

On the other hand, the Republicans have a fairly broad choice in how best to present her to the country. Probably the angle they’ll take will be the truth, though not the full truth, rather than any attempt at “reinvention”—but the possibility is still open to them.

(Please understand, too, that nothing I’ve written has been from the point of view of a partisan. This is simply how I see the situation playing out tactically.)

Alan Roebuck writes:

You said:

[Harping on Obamas inexperience] shows an inability [of the Republicans] to oppose Obama based on the things that really matter: namely, who he is, what he stands for, what he would do as president.

Vexing indeed, for a putatively conservative party to fail openly to espouse conservatism. But I see this refusal to take a strong position as a regrettably essential feature of today’s American politics, because I see Republicans and Democrats alike refusing to attack their opponents in doctrinally clear terms. The Republicans hide their conservatism more than the Democrats hide their liberalism, but that’s because liberalism (unofficially) rules, and a party which needs lots of votes cannot afford to contradict the common understanding of things.

After all, the outcomes of elections are generally determined by undecided voters, and the undecided don’t like to hear a strong argument for either side: A strong argument for X arouses their enthusiasm for non-X, which reminds them of their fence-sitting, which upsets them, for which they blame the pro-X faction. Thus, ironically, making a strong argument for X drives the undecided into the anti-X camp. I’m sure that both parties have plenty of focus-group data proving this, which is why they refuse to take strong, unambiguous positions.

This explains why the Republicans only hint at being conservative. But the Democrats can’t afford to be openly liberal either, because liberalism is not officially the ruling ideology, and so the public support for liberalism is a mile wide and an inch deep. A pitch that is too strongly liberal arouses the latent conservatism of the fence-sitters.

In short, we have a divided nation, which is why both parties have to do a lot of hinting and symbol-mongering. They can’t afford to tell it like it is.

Of course, in some local races the candidates can afford to tell it like it is. But overall, the paradigm I described above rules.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 30, 2008 06:04 PM | Send

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