The experience trap

by on August 29, 2008 at 4:56 pm in Political Science | Permalink

Around the blogosphere you will see many left-wing writers criticizing Palin for lack of experience.  Maybe this criticism is correct, but these commentators are falling into The Trap.  Most American voters do not themselves know much detail about foreign affairs and their vision of an experienced leader does not require such knowledge.  Was it demanded from Reagan?  Doesn’t everyone agree that Cheney and Rumsfeld knew plenty?  Rightly or wrongly, many American voters will view Palin’s stint as mayor of small town, her background in sports, her role in a beauty contest (yes), her trials raising teenage children, and her decision to stick with her priinciples and have a Downs Syndrome baby as all very valuable and relevant forms of experience.  The more the word "experience" is repeated, no matter what the context, the more it will hurt Obama.  Palin needs to appear confident and capable on TV and in the debates, but her ticket is not going to lose votes if she cannot properly spell Kyrgyzstan or for that matter place it on a map.

Addendum: Here is early response over at The Clinton Forum.

1 KP August 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm

I think the important distinction isn’t that the left wing is necessarily criticizing Palin for her lack of experience. I think they’re pointing out that experience was the main negative of their candidate, and now that negative loses a lot of its bite.

2 cob August 29, 2008 at 5:04 pm

This reminds me of when you said the more iraq was repeated in the 2006 elections the more it would hurt democrats…seriously if you’re going to once in awhile discuss politics on a blog try not be so off all the time.

This pick is some strange cross between the selection of Harriet Miers and the decision to have Alan Keyes challenge Obama for the senate.

3 DNL August 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm

I think that’s right to a degree. She needs:

1) To avoid looking like Dan Quayle II. That means she needs to be able to find Georgia (the former SSR, not only the state) on a map and be able to spell “potato”.

2) McCain to remain in good health. The big knock on her lack of experience is that any stumble there means a person no one ever heard of is a good shot at becoming president, and then her lack of name recognition — not really her lack of experience — will matter.

3) Biden to attack her at the debates, with her being able to take it without seeming similarly like an attack dog. Gender is going to play a role in the interpersonal relationship there.

4) Have her big blemish — the investigation into the firing of her brother-in-law — either disappear or look like a women’s rights issue.

If those four things happen, she’s a boon to the campaign. Not enough to win in November, but definitely a thumb on the scale. If not, she’ll sink the McCain ship, as Obama will effectively be able to use her as an example of McCain’s poor judgment.

I think she’s a high risk choice, but probably the right one given McCain’s underdog status.

4 lannychiu August 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm

I think the far larger trap is that it casts a very poor light on the candidate at the top of the Democrats ticket.

Executive experience (i.e. not being a member of the Senate) is far more important to running a government, of which Palin has some. And no one else running has any. She also is in fact a proven reformer, while Barack can only speak about being a reformer. One key test, has he ever done anything that goes against party lines for the common good?

5 Bandwagon Smasher August 29, 2008 at 5:17 pm

The one thing that’s for sure is that Biden will look like a jerk attacking this woman. If she’s smart, she can throw experience back at him, by pulling out all his quotes regarding his support for the Iraq War (“it will be a decades-long commitment”), and refers to how his idea on the break-up of Iraq is generally regarded by Iraqis as a terrible and uninformed idea (not to mention contrary to Obama’s position).

6 RCinProv August 29, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Doesn’t everyone agree that Cheney and Rumsfeld knew plenty?

Excuse me, does anyone that they “knew plenty”? They “knew” there was WMDs. They “knew” that we would be greated as liberators. They “knew” that the mission was “accomplished” four years ago….

Anyway the logic that pointing out Palin’s gross lack of experience somehow hurts Obama could only come from someone predisposed to McCain.

Palin is Dan Quayle with a gun. And the gun is not enough to overcome this embarassment.

7 Hopefully Anonymous August 29, 2008 at 5:24 pm

More broadly, I see battles of mythologies again in this thread. Anyone care to attempt to be the non-partisan empiricist in good faith?

8 jason voorhees August 29, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Out of curiosity, what does she bring to the table that Kay Hutchison didn’t? I was hearing rumors of Hutchison, but what Palin got that she doesn’t?

9 drea August 29, 2008 at 5:31 pm

closing italics

10 TheophileEscargot August 29, 2008 at 5:33 pm

One of the odd things about this election seems to be the lack of executive experience in both slots, on both sides.

I wonder if it’s partly a consequence of the increased popularity of conspiracy theories in the Internet age. If something goes wrong now, many people assume it’s not because the leader was incompetent and messed things up; but because he’s diabolically cunning and engaged in an obscure conspiracy.

If so, then experience not only becomes less of a positive factor, it could become a negative factor. To have political, particularly executive, experience means one has been exposed to the shadowy conspiracy groups of Big Business, Lobbyists, Special Interests, the Unions and the Politically Correct.

So, the less experienced a candidate, the better.

However, I think we could take the principle further.

Clearly the conspirators are going to be most interested in influencing the most successful people. So to defeat them, all we need to do is select a candidate with a proven record of failure at everything they’ve attempted to do. Find the worst failure in America and make him or her President, and all our problems will be over.

11 KipEsquire August 29, 2008 at 5:48 pm

There is a difference between criticizing Palin for her lack of experience and criticizing McCain for being a hypocrite for picking someone with a lack of experience after basing his entire campaign on criticizing his opponent for his lack of experience.

12 matt wilbert August 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Out of curiosity, what does she bring to the table that Kay Hutchison didn’t? I was hearing rumors of Hutchison, but what Palin got that she doesn’t?

Although to the extent she has any substance at all, Kay Bailey Hutchinson is a fairly standard Republican conservative, she not a strong pro-lifer, and therefore radioactive.

13 joan August 29, 2008 at 6:12 pm

The experience she lacks it what a candidate gets when in the spot light of the media, with every word they say recorded and played back to them when they show the slightest inconsistency. They must also know how to not answer questions with out refusing to, and how to handle hecklers and a woman must not show emotions and always seem to be in control. Hillary had these skills which is what allowed her to be a viable candidate, but I doubt Palin has developed them in the two years as as a popular Governor of a small state or as serving as mayor of a town the size of my children’s high school.

14 Nathan August 29, 2008 at 6:20 pm

I think Tyler’s wrong about this. Another thing I think is going to turn out to be a big deal: Palin is adamantly pro life, to the point of banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

15 Patrick Minton August 29, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Wait…what?

So, voters will treat whatever the hell they want as relevant experience?

So, um, why is Obama inexperienced, then? Why aren’t the republicans falling into “the trap” by referring to him as inexperienced?

I think experience is overrated anyway. I mean, if you do an incompetent job for 40 years, all you’ve got is plenty of experience at sucking.

16 GL August 29, 2008 at 7:13 pm

If Palin spurs even HALF of the democratic gaffe’s the rest of the campaign, as she has today… this is an out of the park home run by the McCain camp!

Already today we’ve had…

1.) Hussein stooge Adrianne Marsh resurrect the “clinging to God and Guns” gaffe with her nasty (first Hussein camp reaction) of calling Palin a “former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency”. Beyond the contempt for small town America intrinsic in 90% of all Democratic politicians… there is the seemingly blind reference to a lack of foreign policy experience being a heartbeat away from the presidency???? Did no one think that their own candidate being a former community organizer (lib speak for Race Pimp) with zero foreign policy experience LESS than a heartbeat away from the presidency??? LOL Fantastic!

2.) Hussein stooge Keith Boykin (one of the cadre of black racists surrounding any lib-demo campaign these days) actually called Palin an “affirmative action” pick!!!!!! Oh the humanity of it all! LOL!!! I couldn’t have been more pleased than if they had run old Susan Estrich out to call Palin an “Uncle Thomasina”! LMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lib hypocrisy on full display!

3.) CNN stealth libbo John Roberts suggested that accepting the nomination would mean she “will neglect her kids”!!!!! I mean is this guy pissed about losing out to Katie Couric or what?????? LOL I mean why doesn’t he just address a PUMA convention and tell them to go bake him some cookies while the men decide things!!! LMFAO!!!!!

You can’t buy this kind of publicity of the misogynistic and racist nature of liberal democratic politics and politicians!!!

Go Palin!!!!!!!!!

17 Hi August 29, 2008 at 7:23 pm

LOL, Hussein, GL

18 Happy Camper August 29, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Wasn’t Harriet Miers available?

HC

19 DNL August 29, 2008 at 8:27 pm

@L2P:

He has to abandon that line of attack, no doubt, but I think that he knows that. And I think he had to anyway with the Biden pick. First, it wasn’t working, and second, Biden serves the role of “trusted elder” well.

Instead, I’m betting that McCain’s campaign is centered around Main Street problems. Palin is a good choice there: she’s the voice of Alaska when it comes to ANWR drilling (and therefore holds moral authority in energy policy), she’s a mother of five kids, mayor of a small town… you know, all the things our esteemed host said in the original post to which you took exception.

If McCain plays to her strengths, he’ll also be playing to one of Obama’s potential weaknesses. I personally don’t see Obama as an “elite” who is out of touch with Main Street America, but if McCain can sell that, it may be his best chance to pull off an upset.

20 Steve August 29, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Great pick McCain! The women I know are absolutely delighted with Sarah Palin. She is engaging, smart, witty, and frankly beautiful. She is a great role model for American Women and will make a fine VP and future President herself!
Steve
http://www.the-irn.com

21 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Instead, I’m betting that McCain’s campaign is centered around Main Street problems.

Only if you mean Main Street, Baghdad. McCain has all but announced that he doesn’t give a damn about health care, income inequality, stagnant income, unemployment, lost homes, or really anything that matters to the average Main Street resident. The idea that he is focused on anything but the Iraq war and how to win it, whatever that means this week, is just hopelessly wrong. And America actually gets that, when not distracted by stupid crap. Obama, unlike so many failed Democrats of recent years, just has to keep hitting that constantly to win this thing.

22 Mel August 29, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Trying to minimalize Governor Palin does not wash. Who outside of Chicago ever heard of Obama before he Ran? Who outside of Arkansas ever heard of Bill Clinton before he ran? As for experience, she is no less qualified than either Hillary or Obama. She has been a governor and has had corporate experience. Finally, Palin is not Dan Quail with a gun. She is an experienced woman who threatens the DNC.

23 chris August 29, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Palin is an interesting pick. That scumbag traitor Obama will probably still win, but McCain will put up a good fight.

Obama can’t hide his spots forever. His twisted soul peaked out a couple times even in his acceptance speech.

24 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Well, of course he’ll win, chris. He is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

To what is he actually a traitor, in your fevered imagination, other than Dear Leader and the sacred right of the rich to rule over us?

25 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Please specify, anglo-burgundian.

Then please justify Charles the Bold.

26 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Frank, people are happy right until they have to come up against the real limits of our life, like dishonest insurance rules and sudden mortgage problems and credit card crap. Liberals would like to look ahead and head off some of the problems before people actually are bankrupted by these things. Is that actually wrong?

27 kurt August 29, 2008 at 10:13 pm

If Americans can vote an actor (no pun intended) into office without any real damage, they can easily vote for a caribou hunting moose eating salmon pouching basketballing miss congeniality who happens to be some state’s governor.

28 Ari August 29, 2008 at 10:18 pm

If experience makes for good governing, then what could possibly be better than a third Bush term? Better start amending the constitution …

Cheers,
Ari

29 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 10:36 pm

I know we’re all supposed to cower at the thought of all them brilliant republicans, but with this VP pick it should be obvious they have completely lost it and probably given up.

This is a thousand kinds of stupid and she will be torn to shreds in the next couple of months. It’s over, and I suspect McCain already knows it. I’ll bet money Karl Rove does.

30 Frank August 29, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Maybe a good historical analogy is Harry Truman?

31 Guest August 29, 2008 at 10:44 pm

What left-wing writers? And what are you doing citing to Jim Lindgren? This post is just B.S., sorry.

32 Frank August 29, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Harry Truman, the haberdasher?

33 Little Boots August 29, 2008 at 10:57 pm

“Harry Truman, the haberdasher?”

Ah, yes.

Ah.

Yes.

34 Neil Kinnock August 29, 2008 at 11:13 pm

The only rageaholics I’ve seen are the desperate Obots.

Maverick has gotten inside BHO’s OODA loop they are just reacting to what he did two moves ago.

By the time they figure out a way to counter the Palin move (if ever?) he will have named Joe Lieberman to his Cabinet and set off a new round of Dem teeth gnashing.

35 Neil Kinnock August 29, 2008 at 11:33 pm

I don’t love Lieberman, he’s OK. I’m just saying a bold move like that is exactly what a Maverick might do and it would create another situation where BHO is reacting to McCain. Always playing catch up.

Barack Obama. P0wned.

36 senderista August 29, 2008 at 11:53 pm
37 Little Boots August 30, 2008 at 12:16 am

Or, rex, you could ignore all those alleged supporters and their alleged craziness and actually focus on what the candidates themselves are likely to do.

That would be somewhat more rational.

If you were so inclined, perchance.

38 Eric H August 30, 2008 at 12:53 am

Why is she the new Dan Quayle? Why not the new Geraldine Ferraro? Y’know, a gimmick pick by someone who knows he is going to lose?

Got to respect someone willing to have a Downs Syndrome kid with full knowledge. Not so impressed with someone who forces others to follow suit.

The new campaign slogan: “Got MILF? McCain-Palin”

Agreeing halfway with Bernard Yomtov, why the emphasis on experience? This is deja vu all over again (it happens every 4-8 years), but the RNC certainly has no claim to exclusivity. In my lifetime, I recall that Carter was the “experience” candidate, then Reagan, then Bush, then Gore, and now McCain. By “experience”, it is simultaneously meant that they were involved in past foreign policy blunders and probably that they know more lobbyists by name than constituents, but the first half is rarely put that way and the second half is usually left unstated. I’m reminded of the incumbent in _Oh Brother Where Art Thou_ who realizes that he has to come up with a reply to his opponent’s anti-corruption angle: all of these “angles” are just pre-fabricated nonsense that sucker lots of voters who think they are thinking. If the experience is on your side, pound that, if inexperience is on your side, pound the “change” angle, and if your experience is just embarrassing, become a populist and just pound “the people”. So to speak.

And mishka: very funny. But that’s a “funny once” joke.

39 Tom Elia August 30, 2008 at 1:59 am

PeterE wrote:

“Sarah Palin, if I read her public financial disclosure correctly, must have a net worth of over $10 million.”

I think you read the financial disclosure form incorrectly; it appears that Palin has about $20,000 in an IRA and 401k…

40 Rex Rhino August 30, 2008 at 2:31 am

Or, rex, you could ignore all those alleged supporters and their alleged craziness and actually focus on what the candidates themselves are likely to do.

That would be somewhat more rational.

If you were so inclined, perchance.

Those supporters are the ones that the respective candidates are pandering to. So when I see a McCain supporter being a jerk, or I see an Obama supporter being a jerk, I know the issues and positions they emotionally resonate enough to cause them to be a jerk are the ones their candidates are likely to push.

Find the ugliest extremes on both sides, and that will give you a good idea of what the candidates will actually need to focus on.

41 edh August 30, 2008 at 2:42 am

Two thoughts:

1.) Name a conservative V.P. selection that would have elicited less criticism from McCain’s detractors on the left. If you can’t think of a few, or even one, doesn’t that indicate Palin is a better choice in their subjective view.

2.) All Palin has to do is promise to appoint a V.P. with Biden’s “experience” in the event she needs to replace McCain. She then pulls herself even with the bottom-heavy administration that Obama offers the voter now, doesn’t she? Plus she’d have the experience gained as V.P. in the interim.

42 Laura August 30, 2008 at 3:12 am

Taking down the her own state party chairman and sitting governor on ethics violations…from a position on a minor ethics advisory committee…in only a couple of years…

Hockey-mom persona aside, the woman has got to be one h— of a politcal operator.

Obama, by contrast, spent a few years in the equally desperately-in-need-of-cleanup Illinois legislature without seeming to have accomplished much.

At the same time, I’m still not sure how well (or more to the point, how quickly) that translates to effectivenss inside the beltway.

43 Andrew August 30, 2008 at 4:02 am

“The side that gets my vote of the lesser-of-two-evils will be the side that knows how to debate the issues in a way that is civil and respectful to their opponents, or at least knows how to keep their mouths shut.”

I think it’s strong odds you’ll be voting Palin-McCain. However, the odds that there will be a loose-cannon blowup on the GOP side are now squared.

44 Phillip Capper August 30, 2008 at 6:32 am

Do you guys realise that to many of us out here in the rest of the world the way you personalise your political discourse, the disgusting language you use to demean each other in your discussions, and the minimal attention you give to actual policies, leads us to wonder whether the brand of democracy you preach is really what we want to emulate?

45 8 August 30, 2008 at 8:43 am

Sarah Palin has more executive experience than Obama, Biden and McCain.

Alaska also borders Russia and the Alaskan National Guard hasn’t been deployed overseas for a long time (50 plus years by one site I saw) because they are already active. With Russia stepping up its confrontation with the U.S. this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she has some actual foreign policy experience, besides military experience as the head of the Guard.

In some respects, she is the most experienced.

46 brainwarped August 30, 2008 at 9:29 am

McCain should have chosen Arnold Schwarzenegger!!! Because he would not be able to lose if he did.

Picking a woman will not take any of the democratic vote away from Obama, but it may bring back some of the republican vote. All-in-all, it was in extremely poor taste, and for some reason, I can’t get past the idea she went back to work less than a week after having her last baby. Does that child not deserve her time because of its special needs? Her pro-life stance does not seem compassionate, considering not everyone can afford a nanny to raise and take care of their children for their whole lives.

47 Frank August 30, 2008 at 10:42 am

Harry Truman never went to college. He did two years of law school; no degree. His “judgeship” of Jackson County was a head administrative position. The population of Jackson County today is approximately the same as the population of Alaska today. He did serve as an officer in World War I.

48 Bruno August 30, 2008 at 10:57 am

I can’t believe in what the republicans will say just to defend McCain’s decision.

As a non-american I only hope that if McCain is elected, nothing happens to him, otherwise we’re all screwed.
Specially you.

49 Hopefully Anonymous August 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

It’s interesting how emotional a lot of the posters (and maybe even Tyler) is about Obama and Palin. I think the race and gender (and maybe endogamy and beauty) elements push some primal buttons in what is already a tribal exercise. These emotions don’t seem to me to be about presidential qualifications or policy to me.

50 glh17 August 30, 2008 at 10:47 pm

I agree 100 percent. If her lack of experience is a problem, it will likely be obvious before the election. If not, there’s not much the dems can do about it without hurting their own chances. I don’t think very many people know much about this woman right now, and the dems would be advised to not underestimate her.

51 meter August 31, 2008 at 10:24 am

Again, I ask, what is McCain’s great executive experience? Why is he any more qualified than Obama in terms of experience? More years in the Senate?

52 wcyee August 31, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Palin is just attractive bait. If the Obama camp is disciplined enough to hold their line on the election being about Obama vs. Bush-McCain, they win.

53 Aaron Fix September 1, 2008 at 2:14 am

The best part about this thread is definitely the comments. It is amazing how smart people (I assume most of you are) are mostly incapable of making a dispassionate observation or any comment without their own political biases coming to the forefront. I guess that is better, I don’t have to work very hard to figure out where the loyalties lie so it is easy to read the comments with a grain of salt. GL is a particularly bad offender, do you even think, or just react?

I find this inability for unbiased thought really fascinating, is there a way to make an experiment out of this?

For the record, I agree that attacking Palin’s lack of experience won’t be very effective, but neither will attacking Obama’s. The rationale that I see for having her on the ticket (I think most will agree) is exclusively to steal votes from the dems that might have gone towards Hillary. For me the most interesting question left is whether they can do this (move towards the center and grab those independents/conservative democrats who like Clinton) without alienating Republicans who absolutely loathe Hillary Clinton.

54 Barkley Rosser September 1, 2008 at 10:29 am

Aaron Fix,

I disagree. While trying to pull in some independent women who leaned to Hillary was probably a motive, the more serious impact appears to be on the social-cultural conservatives who were unhappy with McCain and might have stayed home on Nov. 4 and sat on their wallets, but are now enthusiastically for the GOP ticket. Some of the comments here are a pretty good sign of that effect.

55 Brad September 2, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Same applies to republicans who comment on Obama’s experience…Whats your point Tyler?

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